There’s still time to make a pair of important New Year’s health resolutions. Smokers should make every effort to quit. Society should make every attempt to prevent people from starting to smoke — including raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21.
We’ve known the dangers of smoking for years, but a milestone this month should serve to remind us smoking kills. It was 50 years ago this month a landmark U.S. Surgeon General’s report that linked smoking with bad health was issued. It was the first time Americans were told directly smoking kills. The government has updated the report 32 times in the five decades since.
Those reports, along with the work of doctors and other health professionals, have made an impact. In 1965, 42 percent of the population smoked. Today, 19 percent of Americans do, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC claims government anti-smoking efforts have saved 8 million lives.
That’s wonderful progress, but work remains to be done. An estimated 43.8 million Americans still smoke and experts claim the decline in smoking has plateaued. People aren’t quitting anymore.
Smoking remains the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the United States. It kills more people than obesity, substance abuse, infectious disease, firearms and traffic accidents, according to the CDC. About 443,000 Americans die from smoking-related illnesses every year, according to the U.S. Department of Health.
Americans know smoking kills. It’s becoming more and more socially unacceptable. It’s expensive. It’s banned in most public places. Yet millions continue to do it. Why?
A combination of psychological and biological factors are to blame, according to scientists.
“The chemicals in cigarettes work on the structures deep within a smoker’s brain, literally rewiring it so the habit becomes deeply ingrained,” Jed Rose, the director of the Duke Center for Smoking Cessation in North Carolina, said in a recent CNN report. “Every move a smoker makes: the lighting of the cigarette, the inhaling, all the feelings and sensations of it, the whole package becomes highly addictive.”
Most smokers believe its easy to quit — before they actually try to stop, according to scientists.
“Ultimately, they will lose their capacity to make a free choice to smoke,” Rose said. “Then 30 years later, that’s when we typically see them in our program desperately trying to quit, because now they can’t go a single day without (a cigarette).”
The World Health Organization has termed tobacco a “gradual killer.” It notes many young people start to smoke believing they can stop before suffering ill effects. While it’s never too late to quit, quitting is often much tougher than simply recognizing the problem.
Avoiding cigarettes all together is the best way to steer clear of tobacco-related addiction and illness. That means keeping them away from children and young people, which is the reason many are calling for an increase in the legal age to 21 to purchase cigarettes. New York City had already taken that action. Some New York counties — Nassau and Suffolk on Long Island — have raised the legal age for purchasing cigarettes to 19. New York State should follow their lead. If not, local governments should.
While tobacco advertising has been banned on television and the dangers of cigarettes have become well known, temptation remains.
Several studies show tobacco marketing and advertising works and increases the likelihood that youth will start smoking. In 2011, cigarette companies spent $8.37 billion on ads and promotional expenses in the United States alone, according to the CDC. That breaks down to about $23 million a day or $27 for every American per year.
Tobacco use is an issue everyone should care about — smokers and non-smokers. It’s expensive for everyone.
Smoking cost the United States more than $193 billion a year, according to the CDC, including $97 billion in lost productivity and $96 billion in direct health care expenditures. That’s an average of $4,260 per adult smoker. It’s a price we all pay.