It’s safe to say that over the past few decades, billions of dollars have been spent in the United States on reducing tobacco use.
It has had an impact. The number of adults who smoke has declined steadily, from about 43 percent in 1965 to the current rate of approximately 20 percent. Among high school students, the age group in which tobacco use most often starts, the smoking rate has fallen as well. Smoke-free workplaces and eating establishments are widespread.
Some facts from the website:
- Smoking is linked to health problems that range from coronary artery disease and high blood pressure to lung cancer, oral and neck cancer, chronic bronchitis and increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
- More than a quarter-million children in Minnesota are exposed to secondhand smoke at home.
- Almost half of the adults who responded to the 2010 Minnesota Adult Tobacco Survey said they were exposed to secondhand smoke within the past week.
- Progress in reducing tobacco use among adolescents in Minnesota appears to have stalled. According to the 2011 Minnesota Youth Tobacco and Asthma Survey, 77,000 middle school and high school students are current tobacco users; collectively they will buy or smoke 13.4 million packs of cigarettes this year – enough when stacked sideways to span the entire state from north to south.
- Smoking costs $3 billion in excess health costs annually in Minnesota. This works out to $554 per individual Minnesotan.
None of this information should come as a surprise. The American public has been exposed to public health messages about the physical and economic toll of tobacco use for decades, perhaps to the point of tuning it out.
Tobacco control efforts can be at odds with individual rights and interests, as any smoker forced to huddle outside the company loading dock for a cigarette break might tell you. When a federal appeals court struck down the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s graphic new warnings for cigarette labels earlier this year, the decision came down to free speech protection.
Yet the other side of this is that for every smoker who doesn’t wish to quit, there’s someone else who does. Last year the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed data from the 2010 National Health Interview Survey involving more than 27,000 adults over the age of 18. Among those who smoked, seven out of 10 said they wanted to quit, and half had attempted to quit during the previous year.
Despite long-standing anti-tobacco campaigns, it’s somewhat startling to realize how pervasive tobacco use still is. A new small-scale study, to be published in the upcoming issue of the Pediatrics journal, found that many parents who smoke do so in their car in the presence of their children, and only a minority had a smoke-free policy for the family vehicle.
In another recently published study, researchers observed patients at a large urban hospital and found that among those who smoked, nearly one in five continued to light up during their hospital stay – even though the hospital had a smoke-free policy.
Tobacco smuggling also remains a significant global issue that robs Third-World governments of tax revenue and is thought to contribute to the funding of organized crime. An in-depth report developed by an international team of journalists concluded that the illicit tobacco trade is so widespread and so lucrative that tobacco has become “the world’s most widely smuggled legal substance.”
So is tobacco use “still a problem”? Let the public look at the evidence and judge for themselves.