Since the release of the Surgeon General's Report on smoking and health in 1964, the rate of cigarette smoking among adults has dropped by about 50 percent. Since the 90s, however, smoking has increased among adolescents and young adults thanks to cigarette advertising specifically targeted to them. Although only two percent of smokers are teenagers, the tobacco companies spend 50 percent of their advertising money targeting these young consumers.
In response to this outrageous behavior on the part of tobacco companies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have initiated a comprehensive national anti-tobacco effort.
Tobacco companies spend over $6,000,000,000 a year in advertising. Why target young people? Do they really want them to die prematurely? In short, the tobacco industry doesn’t care about kids, it cares about profits. It needs new smokers to take the place of those who have quit smoking or have already died of tobacco-related illness — otherwise profits drop and shareholders get angry.
We all know that kids are very impressionable. They want to be just like the 'cool,' 'powerful,' 'virile,' 'naughty' images of taut and tanned young bodies engaged in heroic athletic feats that illuminate the advertising page on which the words "Performance Counts" loom large. What do we have to counter these temptations?
For everyone who dies from tobacco-related causes (and we’re talking about a death every eight seconds), two new smokers under the age of 26 begin smoking/
Until this week, just a small box in the right-hand corner of the page which states the Surgeon General's warning: "Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, And May Complicate Pregnancy."
Every year 350,000 people in the U.S. die from tobacco-related illnesses. Smoking is directly responsible for 85 percent of all deaths from lung cancer. The Surgeon General has declared smoking the chief avoidable cause of death in our society. Not only are cigarettes one of the most lethal products around, they are one of the most addictive — even moreso than heroin or cocaine.
Yet, these cancer sticks can be legally bought, sold and promoted through advertisements in the media along with cars, cable TV and butter; and most tobacco promotions are placed within 1000 feet of a school or displayed just a few feet from the candy display at the convenience store.
And this strategy is working; for everyone who dies from tobacco-related causes (and we’re talking about a death every eight seconds), two new smokers under the age of 26 begin smoking!
Take the Camel brand as an example. I remember folks of my grandfather’s generation smoking these unfiltered cancer sticks. Once this generation passed, Camel sales dropped precipitously. Camel then came up with an advertising strategy to target younger smokers — the Joe Camel campaign. The campaign showed Joe Camel, this adventurous character, having fun in exotic and exciting places doing cool and rebellious things.
Like I said, kids are impressionable and Madison Avenue figured out a way for Big Tobacco to cash in on that reality. As cigarette ads increase, so does smoking among young people.
Before the Joe Camel was created, Camel cigarettes were smoked by only one percent of the youth market. Three years later, Camel sales rose 5 percent for adults, but went from a whopping one to 34 percent for kids.
What’s so tragic here is most smokers become addicted to tobacco before they’re old enough to legally buy cigarettes. More than 600,000 middle school students and three million high school students smoke! And three out of four of them will continue to smoke into adulthood. Almost 90 percent of these new smokers smoke their first cigarette by the time they’re 18.
Because the likelihood of developing heart disease and smoking-related cancers such as lung cancer increase with the duration of smoking, those who start at a younger age and continue to smoke are at an increased risk of cutting 10 to 20 years off their lives due to tobacco-related illness.
For these reasons, the Centers for Disease Control has begun a 12-week advertising campaign targeted to smokers aged 18 to 54. Public health experts hope it will also dissuade children from adopting the habit.
I saw one of these commercials last week. It showed a young mom with her toddler in a busy airport terminal; Mom steps away and the toddler begins to cry. The narrator then says: "If this is how your child feels after losing you for a minute, just imagine if he lost you for life." Very dramatic!
We all want what's best for our children, so please don’t treat their smoking as a 'phase' that will pass with time. It’s addictive and will most likely haunt them for decades. Get involved! Work in your communities to outlaw youth-targeted cigarette advertising. Work hard to have smoke-free communities, cities and states. We have a moral right to ban the advertising of cancer sticks!