Our View: America has a healthier attitude toward smoking
This week marks the Great American Smokeout and the 10th anniversary of the settlement agreement between the states and several large tobacco companies.
The 1998 deal resulted in $206 billion to be paid to the states annually to recoup the health care costs associated with smoking. In 1999, Washington state was awarded bonus payments for taking a lead role in tobacco litigation.
Now is a good time to reflect on the changes in societal attitudes about smoking. Baby boomers grew up on ubiquitous TV ads encouraging smokers to fight rather than switch brands or to change to cigarettes that were springtime fresh. Female smokers were told they had come a long way, baby.
Eventually, such ads were banned from television, but that didn’t stop the aggressive marketing.
Instead of touting smokers who would walk a mile for a Camel, the manufacturer turned to the suave Joe Camel cartoon to convince younger people that its brand was cool. One study found that more kids could identify Joe Camel than Mickey Mouse or Fred Flintstone.
But thanks to public pressure, the cartoon was retired, and most children today wouldn’t know Joe.
That’s significant, because the tobacco companies’ internal documents showed the importance of hooking smokers at a young age.
In 1999, Washington state launched a Tobacco Prevention and Control Program. It reports that smoking had declined by 24 percent in 2006. Overall, 17 percent of adults are smokers. Unfortunately, the figure in Spokane County is 24 percent.
Among youths, smoking declined rapidly from 1999 to 2004, but it has crept up in recent years. So there is still much work to do.
Campaigns like “No Stank You” aim squarely at kids who might be considering the deadly habit. The ammunition is hip videos with frank messages.
In 1998, 14.6 percent of infants were born to mothers who smoked. In 2005, it was 10.2 percent.
Surveys reveal that most smokers are aware of the dangers and want to quit. Insurance companies and employers have ramped up the pressure. State and municipal antismoking laws have made the habit a much bigger hassle by pushing smokers outside. High taxes have made a pack of cigarettes quite expensive.
The momentum against smoking is strong, but society must remain vigilant so that history doesn’t repeat.