I am showing my age, but Iâ€™m old enough to rememberâ€”and have triedâ€”candy cigarettes as a child. I even liked them. And in my hometown, mammoth Marlboro billboards used to peer down on the highway like a modern-day Dr. T.J. Eckleburg sign, beckoning passers-by with the iconic cowboy in all his contrived and smoldering coolness.
Thankfully, kids today do not have the same not-so-subtle cues to begin a life of smoking. (Unfortunately, a whole new portfolio of ploys is used by tobacco companies.)
Despite increased efforts by the government over the years to regulate tobacco use, industry bigwigs and tobacco lobbyists still make enough of a stink to stir up libertarian and conspiracy types and, by throwing enough money at members of Congress, get their foul agendas advanced while burning meaningful measures to cinders.
For example, the Youth Access and Advertising rule, which was actually issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) almost 15 years ago (in 1996), finally went into effect Tuesday, June 22, 2010, as part of the larger law, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTCA), or H.R. 1256. You can read the text of the law here, including a list of supporters, opponents, and how the bill came to be law. This rule component of the FSPTCA was swamped for years, as tobacco companies tarred it in legal battles.
Among other prescriptives, this rule contains a provision that requires bigger, bolder-worded warning labels on all smokeless tobacco packages and in all smokeless tobacco product advertisements. Another part of the FSPTCA involves restricting the use of the positive terms â€œlight,â€ â€œmild,â€ and â€œlowâ€ on tobacco packaging; yet another involves a ban on tobacco brand sponsorship of sporting, cultural, and entertainment events, and another provision restricts cigarette or other tobacco vending machines to locations used by adults only (i.e., those over the age of 18 years).
To be sure, a lucky strike (pun intended) connected against tobacco one year ago and a couple days, June 22, 2009, with President Obamaâ€™s signing this act into law, which gives more sweeping power to the FDA to regulate this deadly industry.
Despite all this, there have been some criticisms of this measure. A good summary of the concerns about this law are to be found here, as well as here and here, so I will not tackle the issue of the lawâ€™s relative merits in this article except to say that it's a good springboard for further action.
Instead, Iâ€™d like to look at why tobacco use and tobacco advertising are such a big deal. Here are just a few reasons why.
1.Â Â Â According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every day approximately 3,900 children between the ages of 12 and 17 try a tobacco product for the first time and 1,000 become regular (daily) users of cigarettes.
2.Â Â Â The American Cancer Society (ACS), as reported by CNN, says that some 80% of current adult tobacco users started smoking as teens, andÂ 35% were daily smokers by 18 years old. Other sources place the percentage of adult smokers who began by age 18 at an even higher mark of 90%.
3.Â Â Â Â In the CNN article, cardiologist and American Heart Association spokesperson Dr. Elizabeth Ross is quoted as saying that the use of tobacco â€œincreases health expenses to $96 billion a year.â€ She further noted that â€œnicotine [a chemical component of cigarettes, as are cadmium, ammonia, carbon monoxide, arsenic, formaldehyde, tar, and many others] is a drug [that] raises your heart rate, lowers the oxygen levels in the blood, affects the blood vessels, alters your cholesterol profile, damages your arteries and causes blood clots.â€
4.Â Â Â If these figures were not startling enough, perhaps this will be. Approximately one-sixth of the deaths each year in the United States (i.e., about 400,000 of 2.4 million) are attributable to tobacco use.
5.Â Â Â Dr. Ross: Tobacco is â€œalso the number one preventable cause of death of both men and women in the United States.â€
6.Â Â Â Cigarette smoking among adolescents and adults is responsible for preterm labor, low birth weight, and infant mortality (including stillbirth, miscarriage, and the potential for sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS), among other issues. So, if you are a pregnant woman who smokes, it is possible--if not likely--that your child will have health problems from birth onward that are directly caused by your smoking or even moderate environmental exposure to smoking (so-called second-hand smoke). Here is a small handful of select studies that were recently published, though there are many others.
- Smoking and SIDS, asthma, respiratory infection, and other risks in an excellent study report called "Passive Smoking Damages Children's Health." Startlingly, this article states the following: "Living in a household in which one or more people smoke more than doubles the risk of sudden infant death. Smoking by the mother increases the risk of lower respiratory infections by about 60%, and smoking by any household member by more than 50%. Passive smoking increases the risk of wheezing at all ages ... It also increases the risk of asthma, with the risk increased by household smoking by about 50%, in school-aged children, and for middle ear disease, the risk is increased by about 35%."
- "Infant morbidity and mortality attributable to prenatal smoking," an article that notes that "Despite recent declines in the prenatal smoking prevalence, prenatal smoking continues to cause a substantial number of infant deaths in the U.S."
One last note. I can speak first-hand about being a child in a household of smokers who were unable to put aside their powerful addiction. As a child (and adult), among other things, I faced or am now facing persistent and drawn-out ear infections, multiple instances of strep throat, and--finally--hearing loss and lifelong allergies. I am thankful that the hearing loss occurred after I had learned to speak; otherwise, I would have had speech or other developmental delays, too.
For more information on how to prevent tobacco use in children and teens, please read my companion article, which is shortly to come here on Gather.
Thank you for reading.
U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health, PubMed database (which allows you to use search strings such as "smoking and SIDS" or "smoking and pregnancy" or "smoking and cancer" to locate recent, and older, scientific and medical articles or at least abstracts of the articles; some studies are highly technical, whereas others are more accessible to a medical layperson)