Great American Smokeout: Fighting the ‘smoking is glamorous’ myth

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Campaigners against tobacco have been fighting the propaganda that continues to portray smoking as glamorous. “There is a quitter in you,” reads the invitation to abstain from smoking from the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout event, today.

President Barack Obama quit smoking last year after 30 years, won’t you too take the challenge?

Great American Smokeout, fighting America’s tradition of tobacco use

Great American Smokeout: Quit smoking

Campaigners against tobacco have been fighting the propaganda that continues to portray smoking as glamorous. “There is a quitter in you,” reads the invitation to abstain from smoking from the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout event, today.

Up until the sixties, smoking was traditionally portrayed as something stylish and even sexy (there was for example, Sarita Montiel singing “Fumar es un placer genial, sensual?”).

In old Hollywood many glamorous actors and actresses smoked and did so in a seductive manner. Watch Humphrey Bogart’s images in Google. In most of them he’s holding a cigarette. But those were the forties, you’d say.

The glamorous image of cigarettes started to change when on June 12, 1957, Surgeon General Leroy E. Burney publicly accepted there was clear evidence of a causal relationship between smoking and lung cancer.

Later, the ‘Marlboro man’ (well, two of the actors who played the role on the TV commercials) who rode in the Marlboro world and helped establish Philip Morris’s cigarettes as the world’s most famous, died of cancer. Now, these were the seventies.

In 1965 about 45 percent of Americans smoked. Smoking dropped to a 20 percent of the population in 2007,  even though smoking among high school students has stopped declining since.

These days? Smoking is less popular but a few celebrities still smoke: Ann Hathaway, Jennifer Aniston and Salma Hayek among them.

Smoking is a public health issue, affecting teenagers worldwide

About 90 percent of smokers began to inhale nicotine before the age of 20.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, over 4,000 youngsters try their first cigarette under the age of 18 and 25 percent of them start smoking by the age of 12.

Children and adolescents in the U.S. consume more than one billion packs of cigarettes every year.

When the commercials sell smoking as glamorous, they also feed peer pressure. Young people might tend to fall to peer pressure even though this generation values autonomy and self-determination more than ever.

Great American Smokeout: Quit smoking

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, over 4,000 youngsters try their first cigarette under the age of 18 and 25 percent of them start smoking by the age of 12. Children and adolescents in the U.S. consume more than one billion packs of cigarettes every year.

Teenagers have a need for inclusion and acceptance and refusing to smoke might make them be perceived as less cool, as outsiders.

Comes to mind a Collier County SWAT member leading an exercise during a smoke awareness event some years ago. Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) is a national grassroots organization striving to educate others on the dangers of smoking. However, their main goal is to highlight “the lies and manipulation of the tobacco industry.”

“Pinch your nose, close your mouth and jump for a minute,” he instructed the crowd.

A group of high school students attending the event hesitated for a moment and then tried to follow the instructions. After a minute, the SWAT rep distributed straws and asked participants to breath only through the narrow pipe. He wanted to give them an idea of how it felt to have emphysema, the most common ailment suffered by smokers.

Tobacco is also a major contributor to cardiovascular conditions

Tobacco leads to heart attacks, arteriosclerosis, stroke and at least 13 different types of cancer. It can lead to blindness, periodontitis, pneumonia, reproductive problems, and asthma.

Not only smokers are affected. Secondhand smoke has also been identified as a health risk factor for both children and adults.

The tobacco industry is well aware of the demographics of smoking and has devised different strategies to lure youngsters, including flavoring tobacco. In order to keep their profits constant, Big Tobacco needs 5,000 new smokers daily to replace the ones who die from the habit.

Great American Smokeout

Tobacco leads to heart attacks, arteriosclerosis, stroke and at least 13 different types of cancer. It can lead to blindness, periodontitis, pneumonia, reproductive problems, and asthma. Not only smokers are affected. Secondhand smoke has also been identified as a health risk factor for both children and adults. (Shutterstock photos)

Not long ago, Medicaid sued the tobacco industry for recovery of their tobacco-related health-care costs. The companies agreed to limit or cease certain marketing practices, and to pay the states, in perpetuity, certain annual amounts to compensate for some of the medical costs of caring for persons with smoking-related illnesses.

Even if your neighbor is the one who smokes…

The Surgeon General has warned that even occasional smoking or secondhand smoke causes immediate damage to the body. “There is no risk-free level of exposure to tobacco smoke,” Regina Benjamin said in “How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: the biology and behavioral basis for smoking-attributable disease.”

“The chemicals in tobacco smoke reach your lungs quickly every time you inhale causing damage immediately,” Benjamin said in the report. “Inhaling even the smallest amount of tobacco smoke can also damage your DNA, which can lead to cancer.”

A study published in the Nov. 12 issue of Pediatrics found that when the children are in the car while an adult smokes their odds for respiratory infections, cancer and even death increase.

Tobacco smoke is made up of more than 7,000 chemicals, hundreds of which are toxic. At least 70 of them can cause cancer.

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