Vaping A Public Health Crisis

About 80 percent of America’s health care costs are linked to tobacco and alcohol—two legal forms of drugs. Tobacco-related illnesses alone are the single most preventable forms of death and cost the U.S. about $96 billion each year. The good news is that 70 percent of all smokers try to quit every year. The bad news is that only about 10 percent have the strength to succeed.

When it comes to tobacco marketing, the facts speak for themselves. About 80 to 90 percent of new smokers are teenagers. This includes almost 20 percent of all eighth graders. According to tobacco company documents, these companies actually target young people to replace the sales and profits once generated by smokers who have died or quit.

In the U.S., about 47 million adults and four million teenagers smoke. About 23 percent of adults smoke, and about 30 percent of adolescents are smokers. On average, smokers spend about $700 on their habit each year. About half of this revenue goes to state and federal governments through lucrative tobacco taxes.

The U.S. government became dependent on tobacco taxes in 1898, when Congress raised taxes on cigarettes 200 percent to pay for the Spanish-American war. It continues to add on new taxes and can’t afford for Americans to curb their habits. In 1921, Iowa joined the taxation party and became the first state to add a sales tax to cigarettes, charging two cents per pack.

In 1910, tobacco generated $58 million in federal taxes. By 1999, tobacco produced more than $3.3 billion in federal, state and local taxes in just the United States. By 2010, that number was closer to $10 billion per year. The number continues to climb and many state governments are collecting millions more from the Master Settlement Agreement, which also offers states financial incentives to keep smoking rates up.

Illegal tobacco sales to underage American teenagers generate about $240 million per year in state and federal taxes. Maybe that’s why the U.S. Senate voted 52-48 against increasing funding for the cigarette prevention program in 1997. Meanwhile, that same year, they approved $80 million to subsidize the cost of insurance for tobacco growers.

Tobacco politics are even more baffling when you consider that:

  • Tobacco has caused more death than all of the wars in the history of the world;
  • Between 1950 and the year 2000 tobacco killed about 60 million people worldwide;
  • Tobacco kills about eight people around the world each minute;
  • More people die from tobacco than from the combination of AIDS, alcohol, automobile accidents, fires, homicides, illegal drugs, and suicides;
  • Tobacco-related illnesses are the leading cause of death around the world; and
  • Tobacco kills 443,000 people per year in America alone. In addition, alcohol kills about 100,000 Americans each year. Throw in the thousands of deaths from guns and you can see the job security provided at the division of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). What metric are we using to rate their performance? It might be more accurate to call the agency “population control.”

Just because tobacco products are legal, don’t assume that they are any safer than illegal drugs targeted by the so-called “war on drugs.” Tobacco products are exempt from the Consumer Products Safety Act, which regulates 99.9 percent of the products in the United States. In fact, the deadliest products in America—alcohol, tobacco and firearms—are exempt from this important consumer safety law. Lawmakers also excluded tobacco products from the food and drug laws enacted in the early 1900s. If regulated under these laws, tobacco products must be safe in order to remain legal. Under these laws, products such as Dalkon Shields, asbestos, DDT, leaded gasoline, lead-based paint, Corvaires, Ford Pintos, Firestone tires and other dangerous products were outlawed or recalled for causing much less harm than tobacco causes every day.

Under growing public pressure, Congress actually held its first token probe of the tobacco industry and its advertising practices in 1957. The probe made few headlines and went nowhere. However, a bill aimed at limiting tar and nicotine yields from cigarettes was introduced in Congress in 1958. Since this bill threatened the addictiveness of cigarettes and the profits of the tobacco industry, it was denied a hearing and its sponsor was stripped of his committee chairmanship. In fact, the committee was dissolved to make sure a similar threat never returned. Therefore, don’t assume that the government is looking out for you when it comes to tobacco safety. The legislators’ and regulators’ views of public health are seriously clouded by the powerful economics of tobacco.

In fact, a Duke University study claims that premature deaths from tobacco products in America actually save state and federal governments the equivalent of 83 cents on every pack of cigarettes sold—benefits dead smokers can’t collect. Ironically, Duke University was named after one of America’s original tobacco barons—Buck Duke.

Philip Morris confirmed these financial benefits in a report prepared for the Czech Republic in 1999. The report urged the Czech Republic not to strengthen tobacco regulations because the economic benefits from premature tobacco deaths were so valuable to the country’s budget. The report added up all of the financial impacts of the tobacco industry in that country, including the taxes and jobs generated by tobacco sales. The report also explained that tobacco-related deaths lower the government’s payouts for pensions, housing and long-term healthcare costs for the elderly. Philip Morris explained how cigarettes were saving the Czech Republic about $30 million per year. When tax revenues are added in, the net gain to the Czech Republic was $149 million in 1999. The report referred to the cost savings as “indirect positive benefits.” Philip Morris controls about 80 percent of the cigarette market in the Czech Republic and obviously stood to lose millions if Czechs cut back on smoking.

In March 2000, the prime minister of the Czech Republic joked on television, “By smoking, I contribute to the stability of the state budget. By buying cigarettes, I increase state revenues, and I will die of lung cancer, so the state won’t have to pay me a pension.”

Tobacco is a $50 billion industry in the U.S. alone. It is grown in 21 states and is the fifth-largest income-producing crop for farmers. Since tobacco products are legal for adults to purchase and consume, they project a false sense of security. Tobacco is a much greater public health threat than all illegal drugs combined.

PR campaign tobacco education

Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known. About 33 percent of people who smoke become addicted, which compares to 25 percent of heroin users, 16 percent of cocaine users, 15 percent of alcohol consumers, 11 percent of amphetamine users, and nine percent of marijuana users. Contrary to statements by tobacco company spokesmen, tobacco products are extremely addictive and deadly.

Tobacco companies knew as early as the 1950s about the deadly hazards of smoking, if not sooner, and chose not to inform the Surgeon General or the public. In 1999, a Minnesota judge ruled that there has been a “conspiracy of silence and suppression of scientific information by tobacco companies.” He found out that the tobacco industry suppressed numerous studies on the health implications associated with tobacco products, which contributed to the deaths of millions of people.However, stockholders naturally pressure the companies to increase sales. Raise the stock price. Addict more youngsters. In fact, Philip Morris is in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which forces many fund managers to buy the stock—putting more pressure on the company to grow.

It’s bad enough that our government is addicted to tobacco tax revenues. To make matters worse, individual lawmakers receive millions of dollars from the tobacco companies to influence their actions and votes. Our fearless leaders are actually being paid to look the other way while kids are being addicted with powerful additives. Most of these kids will ultimately die from tobacco.

Because of the growing political threats to the tobacco industry, financial contributions to members of Congress from tobacco companies are soaring. In 1980, politicians received a mere $224,950 from tobacco companies. By 1996, donations climbed to $2.76 million. In 1997, more than $4 million of tobacco’s blood money flowed into the hands of lawmakers. About 72 percent of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 78 percent of the U.S. Senate accepted tobacco money between 1987 and 1997.

On September 11, 1996, Justin Hoover, age 12 and smoker since he was six, testified before a panel of Senators. He said he was hooked on nicotine by the age of nine and urged the lawmakers to help keep cigarettes away from kids.

“I hope you guys can help my (younger) brother and sister so they don’t start,” said Hoover. He also suggested that stores make cigarettes harder to steal. Stealing cigarettes is the pathway to many teen addictions. Once addicted, many kids steal other items to pay for their tobacco habit.

Despite his testimony and other pleas, those lawmakers who received money from tobacco companies were three times more likely to vote to block spending to help states fight illegal cigarette sales to minors. As a result, Congress fought a proposal requiring photo ID checks on all young tobacco buyers. In 1998, the tobacco industry killed an initiative in Congress to fight teen smoking by shifting the focus to raising taxes. In fact, ex-Senator Howard Baker is a lobbyist for Big Tobacco, despite the fact that his wife was a chain smoker and died of lung cancer.

Of course, tobacco is not just an American problem. About 320 million people smoke in China, including 15-30 million women. In addition, about two-thirds of all men smoke. A survey of Beijing high school students found that 30 percent of girls in their third year had already started smoking, similar to smoking rates among teen girls in the U.S.

Chinese citizens consume about 30 percent of all cigarettes produced in the world. Some Chinese brands are actually advertised as healthy. In Russia, about 50 percent of all people are smokers. Many of these smokers will die from their habits and pay good money along the way. In France, 60,000 people die each year of smoking-related diseases.

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