By Ryan Summerlin
// In 1965, about 42% of the United States population considered themselves smokers. The metric for determining this being the question, “Have you smoked a cigarette in the past week?” At the time, cigarettes were advertised everywhere, on television, on the radio, and in magazines.
However, in 1971, the government banned the advertising of cigarettes on television and radio. Since then, a series of other restrictions have followed, including bans on advertising towards children, a mandated label informing all viewers that smoking has been linked to lung cancer, and a complete ban on cigarette advertising in the magazines Time, People, Sports Illustrated, and Newsweek.
Because of these measures, the percentage of smokers in America has decreased to 20% today.
However, the epidemic of big tobacco refuses to leave our nation, reestablishing itself in two key areas: smokeless, or chewing tobacco, and e-cigarettes.
It is our duty as citizens of the United States to put an end to this.
Although smokeless tobacco is banned from advertising on television or radio, its presence is still strong in many magazines with large percentages of young readers, like Sports Illustrated. In addition, the use of chewing tobacco is part of the culture of the national pastime, with approximately 33% of Major League Baseball (MLB) players using chewing tobacco during the 2014 season.
More concerning though, is the rate at which high school boys use chew. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one of ten high schoolers use chewing tobacco on a regular basis.
Although there is a common misconception that smokeless tobacco is less harmful than actual cigarettes, studies have actually shown that smokeless tobacco is more damaging.
Chewing tobacco consists of 28 different carcinogens and more nicotine than a regular cigarette. In addition, scientists claim chewing tobacco is more harmful than cigarettes because the actual carcinogens come into direct contact with the lining of the mouth, leading often to cancer of the mouth and gum, as well as tooth loss, tooth decay, gum disease, and cardiovascular disease.
The case against e-cigarettes is a little more difficult. Designed as a less harmful way to fuel a smoker’s nicotine addiction, e-cigarettes are actually much cleaner than cigarettes or smokeless tobacco.
Invented only in 2003, e-cigarettes are relatively new on the market. Scientists have not been able to study the full effects of a lifetime e-cigarette user, simply due to the brevity of their existence.
Because studies have not yet proven them as harmful as other tobacco products, e-cig manufacturers still have free reign on the advertising market, littering television, radio, and magazines with endless propaganda.
In addition to the bombardment of advertising, e-cigarette companies market themselves especially towards minors, using sweeter flavors like bubble gum or cotton candy as alternatives to the traditional smoky or earthy taste of tobacco. Coupled with lax regulations on the sale of e-cigs to minors, a burgeoning market high school children has been created.
As a result, 13.4% of high schoolers reported using an e-cig in the past 30 days, per a survey in 2014 by the CDC.
If no evidence has been published yet to link e-cigarettes and harmful conditions or diseases like cancer, the question must be raised: Why is the increasing use of nicotine alternatives like e-cigs and hookahs a problem?
It is a problem because big tobacco is still hooking kids on nicotine. While nicotine on its own is not necessarily a carcinogen, it is still highly addictive, more than five times as addictive as cocaine, and is the most effective gateway drug.
According to a study by the National Institute of Health (NIH), over 90% of adult cocaine users had been exposed to nicotine in some form prior to their first time using cocaine. It has also been proven that nicotine use makes the brain more susceptible to other addictions, such as cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamines.
By introducing the adolescent mind to a potent addictive like nicotine, tobacco is preparing our nation’s children for a life of harder drug abuse.
However, there is a solution. Increased bans on the advertisement of both smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes, as well as further education on the dangers of both nicotine and chew, are necessary to end this epidemic.
Cigarette use has been steadily on the decline over the past 50 years because the government enacted measures to prevent big tobacco from poisoning our population. Now, similar measures must be passed in order to terminate this plague.
In addition to removing all nicotine commercials from both television and radio, we also must eliminate nicotine advertising in magazines with a large readership of children. E-cigarette and smokeless tobacco ads are prevalent in magazines such as Sports Illustrated, with a readership of over 6.3 million kids and teens. What kind of example does it set for our country’s youth to associate sports and nicotine?
Along those lines, what kind of example does it set for children to see professional baseball players, heroes of countless youth across America, use chewing tobacco every time they play? Although smokeless tobacco advertising is prohibited on television, it still receives free publicity every time a viewer tunes in to a baseball game.
There is a solution to this last issue. A proposed ban on chewing tobacco in athletic venues is set to take place in San Francisco on January 1st, 2016. Similar bans across the country would be instrumental in ending the use of smokeless tobacco among the population. If the pros don’t use it, then why should you?
The most crucial element to ending this manifestation of addiction caused by big tobacco is the education of our children. By placing an increased emphasis on the dangers of smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes, we can prevent millions of children and teens from even starting.
The use of smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes among our nation’s youth is an epidemic. But it is a preventable one if we take the necessary measures to end it.