Tobacco Companies and Our Children: It’s Much Worse Than You Think
We are encouraged by the CVS’s announcement that they will stop selling tobacco products in their stores. This is a major step forward in the fight against lung disease and other tobacco-caused illnesses and it’s one that we encourage all pharmacy chains to replicate. As we celebrate this victory, we must not lose sight of the need to bolster our efforts to address the broader issue of marketing tobacco products to our children.
Ninety percent of all regular smokers begin smoking at or before the age of 18. Why do 3,500 kids every day try smoking for the first time and why do almost 1,000 additional kids every day become regular daily smokers?
The major tobacco companies are spending $8.8 billion every year, more than $24 million a day, to promote their products. Much of this marketing is directed at our children. We know that if individuals do not begin smoking by age 18, the chances they will ever smoke are greatly diminished. As a Phillip Morris internal document stated:
“Today’s teenager is tomorrow’s potential regular customer, and the overwhelming majority of smokers first begin to smoke while still in their teens …. The smoking patterns of teenagers are particularly important to Phillip Morris”
In the August 2006 final opinion in the U.S. Government’s landmark case against tobacco companies, Judge Gladys Kessler found that:
“Defendants spent enormous resources tracking the behaviors and preferences of youth under 21 …. To start young people smoking and keep them smoking”
“The evidence is clear and convincing – beyond any reasonable doubt – that Defendants have marketed to young people twenty-one and under while consistently, publicly, and falsely denying they do so.”
Despite the court ruling, tobacco companies continue to advertise to our children; at retail outlets near schools and playgrounds, with large ads and signs visible from outside the stores, with price discounts and point of sale advertising.
Additionally, tobacco companies have spent billions of dollars researching and developing additives and delivery methods to maximize the addictiveness of smoking. In fact, the addiction rate for smoking is higher than the addiction rates for marijuana, alcohol, or heroin. A 2007 study found that some children experience dependence within a day of first inhaling.
Kris Popovitch, Oncology Director for Hartford Healthcare’s Central Region, provides smoking prevention presentations which include an interactive discussion with middle school students. His primary focus is to instruct the students on what smoking does to the body. Though it is not common, Kris indicates through conversations he has, that some students have admitted to trying smoking. In addition, he is often reminded by the students not to forget the high schools because kids in high school have already started smoking and many of them are smoking reguarly and need help to stop.
The recently released report “The Health Consequences of Smoking – 50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General, 2014” concludes that 5.6 million U.S. youths alive today will die prematurely as adults due to smoking.
It is mystifying that we and our government still tacitly allow tobacco companies to boldly target our children with poison that will slowly kill them, sucking them into a life- long addiction at a young age when experimentation often trumps judgment. Acknowledgement that cigarette smoking is harmful is less controversial than belief in climate change or evolution; it is truly a cause that both the right and the left can agree upon. Perversely, big tobacco companies are already preparing for the next wave of addictive products, the e-cigarette. Astutely positioning the e-cigarette as a safer alternative for current smokers, the companies are advertising heavily on all media, including television, taking advantage of the lack of federal regulation on their new product.
The American Lung Association’s “State of Tobacco Control” 2014 report shows as a nation and as a state we received failing grades for tobacco control. Proven policies for reducing tobacco use exist, We need to have the will to resist the tobacco company lobbies and enact the laws and policies that will help save lives. Laws to raise taxes on cigarettes, laws for smokefree work places, laws to regulate e-cigarettes, funding for smoking prevention programs for our schools, and funding for smoking cessation support. You can join us and the Lung Association in protecting our children and our citizens by going to http://www.stateoftobaccocontrol.org and taking action.
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