A couple of days ago, I blogged about the Justice Department ordering big tobacco to “tell the truth.” (Nix on Nicotine blog, February 24, 2011). That phrase keeps recurring to me. When you think about it, there are a lot of deceptions around tobacco use.
- Using tobacco is a choice. Let’s tell the truth: Tobacco addicts have lost the ability to choose; they are slaves to their habit.
- People start smoking in the teenage years to look or feel grown up. Let’s tell the truth: Adults who smoke almost all want to quit and many have tried to quit – grown-ups hate the habit!
- A “few puffs” or an occasional “dip” won’t get you addicted. Let’s tell the truth: nicotine is the most addictive substance known, more addictive than heroin or meth or crack cocaine. Addiction begins with the first use.
- Smokers enjoy smoking. Let’s tell the truth: Smokers are chemically addicted to nicotine, and prefer smoking to the withdrawal symptoms when they don’t.
- Tobacco advertising, product placement in movies, and eye-level displays in stores convey the message that tobacco use is a healthy and normal adult activity. Let’s tell the truth: there are four times more tobacco-free people than tobacco-addicted people, and the addicts are finding it harder and harder to fit smoking into acceptable social behavior as more and more non-smokers refuse to be around them.
- Prominently-placed signs in convenience stores warning against sales to minors, often with catchy sayings and cartoon drawings, are supposed to be there to keep kids away from tobacco products. Let’s tell the truth: Those signs and warnings, often at kid eye-level, were designed and placed there by the tobacco companies. They appeal to children, and enhance their perception that smoking is a grown up activity, a rite of passage into the adult world. Those signs imbue underage tobacco use with a risky and adventuresome mystique.
- Many elected representatives would have us believe that Congress is working on our behalf to help curb tobacco use. Let’s tell the truth: Over the last 30 years, Congress has failed to make it harder for youth to buy cigarettes, failed to legislate stricter regulation of tobacco, and failed to limit smoking in the workplace. The advances that have been made – such as ending cigarette billboards and “gear” – were made by the Justice Department, not Congress. Why? Because many Congress men and women are lobbied by and receive campaign funds from big tobacco interests.
Let’s tell the truth now. It’s high time.