Science has proved beyond all reasonable doubt that cigarettes cause addiction, disease and death. Nicotine is more addictive than herion and causes the deaths of 350,000 Americans each year. The use of tobacco, once commonplace in American culture, is now disliked by most Americans. Nonsmokers are now aware of the harms caused by passive smoking, and many restrictions on where people can smoke have been implimented. Even regular smokers most often wish they could stop smoking. If not for nicotine addiction, tobacco wouldn’t be a profitable business. Young people would still experience smoking for a short time, but when the experiment was over most would quit this expensive, deadly habit. Tobacco is no longer a socially accepted form of behavior in American society. We tolerate tobacco use because it has been with us for a long time, but we would not wish for our children and loved ones to become regular smokers.
It seems the only people who approve of and encourage smoking are those involved with the tobacco industry. For cigarette companies to maintain their sales, they must recruit 2.2 million new smokers each year. But there is little incentive for mature adults to begin smoking. So cigarette advertising is aimed to recruit teenagers. The romance and adventure of Marlboro Country is the appearance teens want to show. They see Joe Camal as a “cool” character who lives on the edge. Most teens begin smoking because adults smoke, or their friends smoke. Everyday, 3 thousand children become regular smokers and 1 thousand of these children will die of smoking related illnesses.
In recent years the tobacco industry has been under increased scrutiny and attacks. Many tobacco users have filed civil suits against manufacturers for tobacco-related illnesses to themselves and family members.
In July of 1996, Connecticut filed a 1 billion dollar lawsuit against the nation’s tobacco industry. State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal claims tobacco-related illnesses cause 5,000 deaths every year in the state, and a financial burden of 100 million dollars to treat these illnesses each year.
Connecticut is one of ten states seeking damages against the tobacco industry. The other states are Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Texas, Washington, and West Virginia. Many other states are expected to file similar civil suits in the future.
In 1965, Congress ordered all cigarette manufacturers to put health warnings from the U.S. Surgeon General on all packages of cigarettes sold the United States. At first the industry tried to fight congress, but they finally agreed, and even helped write the consumer warnings. As a result the tobacco industry has never lost a product liability civil suit. They point out to the courts and consumers, “you were warned of the dangers”.
The tobacco industry is under a constant siege of attacks by politicians, the F.D.A., the media, scientists, and society at large. But tobacco is a 30 billion dollar a year business with a long history of political power. The tobacco industry is not going to stop this business of death voluntarily.
The use of tobacco can only be reduced through government intervention. Banning tobacco advertisements and raising taxes on tobacco products have proven to be very effective economic reducers of tobacco consumption. Education programs to inform the public about the dangers of smoking have also proven extremely effective. The state of California had one such program called proposition 99. It called for an additional 25 cent tax on cigarettes, and the money was used to fund anti-smoking TV ads which informed the public on the dangers of smoking. As a result of proposition 99, cigarette smoking was “denormalized” in California, where smoking was reduced by 44 percent.
The tobacco industry responded to proposition 99 with a huge lobby in the state legislature. The lobby gave Governor Wilson, then Speaker of the House Larry Brown, and members of the state legislature, millions of dollars in campaign contributions. Wilson is still Governor, and Larry Brown is now the mayor of San Francisco. In return the tobacco industry got rid to the public education component of proposition 99. And use of tobacco in California is again rising. But proposition 99 proved that society can reduce its number of smokers through tax and education. Programs like proposition 99 will be fought by the tobacco industry on every front, but we must pressure our law makers to put the health of Americans first and the interests of the tobacco industry last.