Tobacco use: still a problem

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.

This should be reason to reflect on the progress that has been made. But to those who work in the field of tobacco control, it isn’t enough.

ClearWay Minnesota launched a new campaign this week whose title conveys a blunt message: “Still a Problem.”

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.

10 thoughts on “Tobacco use: still a problem

  1. It seems to me that the fact about smoking being an “addiction” has somewhat escaped non-smokers and those in the field of “tobacco control”. Of course, tobacco use is “still a problem”. It will be a problem even when the number of adults who smoke goes down to 1%.

    The problem is that all of the laws, regulations, tax increases, and graphic images does absolutely nothing for the 70% of smokers who want to quit. So much money is pumped into anti-smoking campaigns, and not used where it could do the most good.

    I’m not going to do the legwork, but it would be interesting to see a study/survey done on the 50% of smokers who have tried to quit within the past year. What were the reasons they were unsuccessful? What do they think might have helped them remain non-smokers? Following through on the results of that study would probably be money better spent.

    In my opinion, the smuggling problem is not significant, at all. The fact that it is robbing countries of tax revenue is counter to your point. If having zero smokers would be preferable, the income from taxes for any country would be zero, anyway.

  2. It’s not very encouraging when an ex-smoker is now 50 pounds overweight and on medication for high blood pressure. The addiction is still hand to mouth. There needs to be an inner change that leads to no addiction.

  3. I agree the addiction factor is huge. The vast majority of adult smokers started when they were in their teens. Many of them probably didn’t think they would become addicted, or they assumed they would easily be able to quit. There have been a number of studies that have found nicotine addiction develops much more readily in the teenage brain, which is why prevention efforts focus so strongly on teens.

    The issue with tobacco smuggling and tax revenue diversion is that it’s politically, economically and socially destabilizing for Third World governments. There’s evidence that it has fueled violent organized crime, and it deprives countries of resources that could be used for education, public health and yes, tobacco prevention. Globally, most smokers live in low- to mid-income countries where prevention and cessation efforts are often weak. (For anyone who wants to learn more, the World Health Organization website has a ton of statistics and information.) The disease burden is significant, and the illicit tobacco trade unfortunately is helping to reinforce it.

    There are a lot of competing interests when it comes to addressing tobacco use, and it’s a really tough issue. What caught my attention about the ClearWay Minnesota campaign is that it’s a negative in-your-face message, and maybe a little bit risky. A positive message would be to focus on the progress that has been made. Instead, they’re being blunt that Minnesota shouldn’t get complacent. Not everyone is going to like this approach, and it would be interesting to hear what feedback they’re getting or whether the “still a problem” message is having an impact.

  4. Have you been to MN casinos. It seems everyone who smokes go to them. The state was able to clean up the bars and resturants, why can’t the same be done to the casinos? It is so sad to go for enjoyment and have to go to a small area, which are overcrowded and still have to put up with the smoke. I know the casinos are run by the Indian tribes but even some of the are very disgusted. Help us.

    • Let’s go collect on the obese in Minnesota and add 50% taxes on chips, soda, dip, candy, fast food, etc. as they have multiple health problems and then pass those onto their obese children. That is not including nor limited to the health care professionals that have to care for these people and the back/physical injuries they aquire.

  5. You are the !!!! By attacking a product that brings in more taxes in this state than any other product you are the problem….. Maybe we can raise taxes about 50 cents a role of toilet paper an fight a cancer that you are born with.. keep using bad science

  6. Barb has the idea so right, I hope she runs for office! I am not having any children, so anyone who had children with birth defects should be charged extra taxes…I don’t think the people that have children and deny they know the father should get state support, as they should find the father and he should pay, not my taxes. Oh, and any cancer victim of ANY kind of cancer should be stoned to chemotherapy. Wake up stillaproblem!!! Everyone has problems. The day you forget that is the day youve lost all love. My great grandfather smoked all of his life and lived until 101 with no health problems. The cause of death was not smoking. I am not endorsing smoking more than I am endorsing overeating, high fructose corn syrup, MSG, GMO products, fast food, food coloring, etc and etc!

  7. Your so called facts a very boarder line if factual at all and you knows it. When you think this issue is under control what will you start on next. Oh, here some ideas: how foods with all these preservatives, dye in every shape and form is in food and liquids have the stamp of approval. Maybe we should go back to the way crops used to be planted ,milking cows, raising the animals also instead of pumping them with steroids and antibiotics and a lot more of crap we don’t even know about. Why don’t you talk to a doctor about everyone having the cancer cell and if we could figure out what triggers the cancer which is NOT always tobacco then maybe we could help the unfortunate people who get cancer. I suppose that’s not dramatic enough tho is it. So lets please have a true cause and be really trying to find the TRUTH and our food then we my truly be able to find cures/help for the sick. This is JUST the beginning of why we have so many illness in the world with all our technology we should not have these illness. Did you ever think about doing research on that. (whats in our food ). I challenge you to.

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