November is a good month to reconsider the cigarette. Not only is it National Lung Cancer and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Awareness month, but November 20th is the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, a day when smokers are encouraged to put down the pack, if only for the day. As someone who regularly encourages friends to think twice about lighting up, I know this isn’t an easy proposition—nicotine is damn addictive and the tobacco industry, who strives to keep their products accessible and inexpensive, has the upper hand. Talking about lung cancer, COPD, or myriad health effects from tobacco often does little to dissuade my friends—or the 43.4 million adult smokers in the U.S.—from stepping out for a smoke.
And really, who cares if they do? It’s a free country. Unfortunately, tobacco use puts an enormous toll on our society, and all of us, smokers or not, have to pay for it. While the public picks up the tab, the tobacco executives make out like bandits with their huge salaries, and distract the country with junk science and free Marlboro T-shirts.
So, although preventing young people from starting in the first place is the best protection against this, encouraging adults to quit is the next best thing. And since quitting smoking doesn’t just benefit an individual’s health—it benefits the whole society—there are some real costs of tobacco to keep in mind. Maybe they won’t help someone stub the butt for good, but they just might get people thinking.
The True Cost of Tobacco
Though smokers pay the ultimate penalty with disease or death, we all absorb the cost of tobacco use, either directly, through taxes, or indirectly, through increased healthcare costs and economic losses.
Sticks of Bad Stuff
While food, drugs, and other consumables are highly regulated, the tobacco industry has kept their product free from regulation. They don’t have to disclose product ingredients, nor do they have to ensure their product’s safety. Many of the carcinogens found in cigarettes have been banned in other industries, for good reason.
Marketing to Minors
Though the tobacco industry likes to claim that tobacco use is a personal freedom or an individual’s right, they spend billions to make it seem sexy, sophisticated, liberating, and cool. Much of the marketing is directed toward youth, who the tobacco industry refers to as the “replacement generation.” The evidence linking advertising to smoking initiation and consumption is irrefutable.
The Good Tax
Increasing tobacco taxes is one of the best ways to prevent young people from taking up the habit and it’s one reason why the industry spends millions trying to defeat local and nationwide tax increases.
Tobacco is the number one cause of preventable death in the U.S., and in the next few years, it will be the number one killer worldwide.
Second hand smoke is classified as an air pollutant, and with good reason. Because it contributes to so many diseases, many states have passed laws protecting workers, children, and the public.
Small Declines, Big Benefits
Declines in smoking prevalence have huge benefits that accumulate over time …
… but kicking the habit is often difficult.
One of the best ways to ensure cessation for good is to come up with a plan and enlist the help of others (the American Cancer Society has some great, free resources). Doing so might just make November 20th the day when tobacco use became just another statistic.
Photo source: Stewart (cc)