From the U.S. Federal Drug Administration website
, "Beginning September 2012, FDA will require larger, more prominent cigarette health warnings on all cigarette packaging and advertisements in the United States. These warnings mark the first change in cigarette warnings in more than 25 years and are a significant advancement in communicating the dangers of smoking. The introduction of these warnings is expected to have a significant public health impact by decreasing the number of smokers, resulting in lives saved, increased life expectancy, and lower medical costs."
I had a life changing experience when I was about 13 years old. My late father, G.E. Brown, participated in a summer institute for chemistry professors at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. I had a 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 Century Graphic press camera and I somehow convinced the organizers of the institute that I should be their official photographer. I tray-processed well over 100 images, made test prints and took orders. It was the beginning of my career as a photographer.
When I was not making pictures, I hung out at the glass blowing shop the university maintained to make research equipment for chemistry faculty. The shop also did contract work for other organizations. OSHA had not yet been invented yet so kids could hang out in what some people would consider a dangerous environment what with gas burners and glass everywhere. Kids are so protected now that they hardly know what to be careful about. When I injured myself in by touching a hot stove, I made a metal note to not do that again. The first time I cut myself on a shard of glass, I decided to be careful around glass. I considered it a real breakthrough when I was old enough to learn some dangerous things vicariously. I could watch others hurt themselves and learn not to do whatever hurt the other guy.
The glass blowers in the shop had a terrific sense of humor and they were skilled at making custom glass research utensils. But they were also skilled at making art objects too. I remember the beautiful glass swans they made. The glass blowers put on a program about what they did for the chemists and their families. At some point in the program they showed some of their nonscientific art pieces, including some beautiful glass swans. Two boys were asked to volunteer for a contest. The boys faced off about two feet apart. The glass swans were filled with water through the tail end. The boys were told they should take big breaths and blow as hard as they could with their mouths over the tails, which would cause water to come out of the beaks and drench the other boy. Whoever got the other person the wettest would will a prize.
The boys took the swans and squared off. At the command "GO" both took huge breaths and blew furiously. Each boy was completely soaked and the wetter they got the harder they blew. The audience was convulsed with laughter. The glass blowers had told a little lie. The exit hole in the swan was not in the beak, it was in the back of the head. Thus, each boy was drenching himself. I sure was glad I was not one of those boys.
One of the pieces of research apparatus that I watched made was a cigarette smoking machine. It was elegant in its simplicity. Twenty small tubes were inset into a large glass tube. Cigarettes were inserted into the twenty smaller tubes and the pack was smoked by vacuum applied to the larger tube. At the end of the summer the chemists took a tour of one of the cigarette companies in Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina. We all got to tour the research labs, something that was not on the public tours. I watched one of those cigarette smoking glass tubes in operation. I was stunned at the amount of crap that collected in the tube from just 20 cigarettes. As a young teenager, I thought that can't be good for the inside of your lungs.
In my college chemistry class, I learned that smoke is a colloidal mixture of ash and air. So when you are burning trash or leaves (generally banned everywhere) it produces a smelly mixture of ash and air. We avoid breathing it. But cigarette smoke is the same thing and, if you are a smoker, you enjoy sucking it down to the depths of your lungs. Makes no sense to me.
In order to have the cool image I imagined I should have as a college student I took up pipe smoking along with occasional cigars. I rationalized that since I was not inhaling like cigarette smokers did, my lungs would not suffer. Rationalization is a mechanism that allows us to cheerfully do what we suspect we ought not to do.
I did enjoy pipe smoking. The tobacco is more aromatic and the pipes themselves are beautiful, especially when they have absorbed the oils from your fingers. And all the tamping, relighting and puffing is a way to expend nervous energy when studying for a final or writing a paper. I never smoked cigarettes from the memory of that gunk in the glass tube.
Now we know about the dangers of second hand smoke to those around you and from indirectly breathing in the smoke you had convinced yourself you were not inhaling.
At some point I realized that I did not want to be a smoking model for my children. I had learned some of what not to do vicariously. I didn't want them to learn vicariously from me that it was okay to be a smoker. I decided that when the last page of my Ph.D. dissertation rolled out of my typewriter, I would quit smoking altogether.
One evening in 1976, that last page rolled out of my Smith-Corona. I knocked the ashes from my pipe and put my pipes out of reach on a bookshelf. I was done. I haven't smoked since. Since I was able to quit smoking so readily, I have a hard time understanding why other people don't quit.
I became associated with the Laboratory of Physiologic Hygiene at the University of Minnesota as a communication researcher. I learned that cigarette smoking was one of the leading factors in cardiovascular disease. I also learned that two of every three males in the United States would die of heart disease before age 65. By my association with Ph.D. and M.D. researchers, I became aware of major public health issues and smoking is one of the most serious public health issues we have.
At that time I was also aware that young people typically ignore heath messages that tell them their health will suffer from cigarette smoking. They assume some "cure" will be found before they are affected personally.
The problem is that smoking is highly addictive. If you stop inhaling the colloidal mixture of ash in air, your body will go through drug withdrawal symptoms and this is not pleasant if you are highly addicted.
In the last forty years, smoking has become socially unacceptable. It is common for businesses to not allow smoking inside buildings and often smoking is regulated outside too. At the IUPUI campus of Indiana University smoking is not permitted on campus. Addicted students, faculty and staff ignore the ban outside buildings and there is no enforcement. Thus, the ground are still littered with butts and you still have to hold your breath as you enter or leave a building because smokers gather at the entrances.
We now get to the issue of whether the FDA should require cigarette companies to include the graphic pictures discouraging smoking on cigarette packages. Some would argue that tobacco is a legal product within age restrictions so why should cigarette makers have to put such pictures on their packages when liquor companies don't? Both are legal products and drunk drivers kill themselves and others also causing a public health risk. This is a good question. The Marin Institute
cites a study reporting that, "Annual health care expenditures for alcohol-related problems amount to $22.5 billion. The total cost of alcohol problems is $175.9 billion a year (compared to $114.2 billion for other drug problems and $137 billion for smoking)." Other than advertising restrictions labeling for alcohol has been pretty much left alone compared to cigarettes. No one ever said the government was consistent in its policies either foreign or domestic.
So what are the public health costs of smoking? The Center for Disease Control estimates that smokers costs $97 billion in direct cost and $96 billion is lost productivity annually. But a USA Today story
also points out that smokers save society money as well. How can smokers save society money? According the the CDC, smokers die an average of ten years younger than nonsmokers. That is ten years they are not using medicare, social security and pension funds. One economist estimated that for every pack of cigarettes smoked, the country saves $.32.
So what should expect from public health policy? Should we expect long, healthy lives or should we encourage our population to do whatever they can to die young so as to not be a financial burden to society? With the impending shortage of social security funds and a huge bump of post-WWII babies now applying for benefits, perhaps the FDC should withdraw the graphic photos and replace them with flowers so that smoking and early death could be encouraged.
Most of us would prefer the longer, healthy plan.
Today a Bloomberg News story reports that Phillip Morris International is suing the Australian government over its plan to allow only plain dark-olive packaging without logos and carrying negative health messages on cigarette packages. Obviously this government plan is a barrier to Phillip Morris and other companies in their business plan to addict as many people as possible to their products.
When I was in graduate school at Indiana University, Bloomington, Ind., it was common for attractive young women representing cigarette companies to hand out sample packs holding four cigarettes for free. Now the Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis campus of Indiana University has a campus-wide ban on smoking, albeit ineffective. Why do I still see so many college students smoking cigarettes?
A CDC report
indicates that Indiana ranks poorly among the states in smoking problems. Among youth aged 12–17 years, 11.8% smoke in Indiana. The range across all states is 6.5% to 15.9%. Indiana ranks 35th among the states.
Among adults aged 35+ years, over 9,700 died as a result of tobacco use per year, on average, during 2000–2004. This represents a smoking-attributable mortality rate of 308.9/100,000. Indiana's smoking-attributable mortality rate ranks 43rd among the states.
Indiana does not have a statewide smoke-free law that provides adequate protection against exposure to secondhand smoke in public places.
What the CDC data indicate is that Indiana children have plenty of parents who are smoking models. By the time these children get to college they are already hooked.
The central issue in any government control is that we see it as an intrusion into our lives. We don't want the government controlling our behavior. The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to our Constitution, was to ensure that our government did not overstep and trample on our personal freedoms.
We have examples of necessary control all around us. We drive in the right lane of our highways. If people drove randomly we would have many head-on collisions. The FAA, a government agency, controls the takeoff and landing of our commercial airplanes. Otherwise chaos would ensue.
Some states have motorcycle helmet laws and others don't. A few states allow gay people to marry, most don't. Some states and cities have more restrictive gun laws than others.
We do have government control of behavior all around us. Some of these restrictions we willingly accept, others we rebell against because of our personal beliefs and biases.
Because of my own biases, I welcome these graphic pictures on cigarette packages. Cigarette companies know they make a product that will kill and debilitate and they willingly produce the product and market it to increase the value to their stockholders. What I have a great deal of difficulty with is the inconsistency of government policies toward tobacco. While the FDA is doing its best to encourage restrictions on the use of tobacco, Congress is still providing subsidies to farmers for growing tobacco
. These subsidies totaled $1.1 billion from 1995 to 2010. Legislators from tobacco growing states successfully lobby for them and other legislators let them have the subsidies in order to get votes on matters of concern to them. That's politics.
To a nonsmoker, cigarette smoke stinks. The breath of a cigarette smoker stinks. The clothing of a cigarette smoker stinks. It is not unlike the smell of burning trash. Ash smells. Smokers can't don't understand this because smoking diminishes the senses of taste and smell.
City, state and federal folks should do everything possible to discourage smoking especially for children. Even though it may cost more to society, I think it is a worthy goal to have people live healthy and productive lives. Maybe the cycle of addiction will be broken and the cigarette companies will go belly up. Those companies are too big to succeed.