Help Stop the Tobacco Epidemic

Help Stop the Tobacco Epidemic

Tobacco use kills 3 million people worldwide each year, and is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the developed world, accounting for 20% of all deaths.( 1, 2) In the U.S., tobacco use kills 419,000 people each year -- more than all the deaths from heroin, cocaine, all other inicit drugs, auto crashes, homicides, and suicides combined.( 3) Over 50,000 medical studies have documented the dangers of tobacco use and its effects worldwide as the cause of 90% of lung cancer deaths, 30% of all cancers, 20-25% of coronary heart disease and stroke deaths, and more than 80% of chronic bronchitis and emphysema.( 4)

Nicotine, the drug in tobacco, is as addictive as heroin or cocaine. The addictive nature of tobacco makes the tobacco companies' marketing to children and young people even more alarming, since they have very little understanding of addiction. A study of U.S. high school daily smokers found that while only 5% of those teenagers thought that they would definitely be smoking 5 years later, nearly 75% were still smoking daily 7 years later.( 5)

Why is tobacco the least regulated consumer product in the U.S.?( 6) Why has Congress exempted tobacco from regulation in the Consumer Product Safety Act, the Controlled Substances Act, the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, and the Fair Labeling and Packaging Act?( 7) Simple -- the tobacco industry has used misinformation and financial clout to keep what Representative Michael Synar of Oklahoma called a "stranglehold over Congress."( 6) In the 1991-92 election period, tobacco lobbyists gave $2.3 million to Congressional candidates. Phillip Morris and RJR Nabisco were among the top seven corporate donors. Tobacco interests also gave $2.5 million to the Republican and Democratic parties." Also, under pressure from tobacco lobbyists in the 1980's, the U.S. Trade Representative helped to force open the markets of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand to U.S. tobacco companies, challenging these countries' and-tobacco health measures as unfair trade barriers, and insuring a tremendous growth of tobacco use, including amongst young people.

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After all, the tobacco industry loses about 4,700 customers every day in the U.S. -- the 3,500 who manage to quit and the 1,200 who die.( 9) To find new customers, every day U.S. tobacco companies spend $11 million to advertise and promote cigarettes,( 10) more than the U.S. Federal Office on Smoking and Health spends to prevent smoking in an entire year.( 11) The obvious market of new smokers is young people. Through advertising and promotion, the tobacco industry associates smoking with being an adult, being "cool," being glamorous, etc.

RJR Nabisco's Joe Camel campaign is a clear example of the industry hitting its target. This cartoon character is modeled after James Bond and Don Johnson of Miami Vice.( 12) Joe Camel has profoundly influenced even the very young. One study showed that one-third of three year-olds matched Joe Camel with cigarettes, and that six year-olds were as familiar with him as they were with the Mickey Mouse logo on the Disney Channel!( 13) The cartoon Camel catapulted Camel cigarette sales from a brand smoked by less than 1% of U.S. smokers under age 18 to 33% of the youth market (along with about one-half billion dollars in sales) within just three years.( 14)

Since 1971, when tobacco was banned from the airwaves, the industry started sponsoring televised events in order to get plenty of exposure anyway.( 15) Phillip Morris' Virginia Slims tennis tournament associates exciting young athletes with a popular young woman's cigarette. RJR Nabisco targets youth by sponsoring the Winston Cup auto racing, again associating an exciting sporting event with a cigarette brand, getting around the airwaves ban, and targeting youth.

After declining every year for 25 years, U.S. smoking rates increased slightly in 1991,( 16) indicating the tobacco industry's ability to hook young smokers. Since R JR Nabisco's Joe Camel campaign began, smoking is up 10% among U.S. teenagers.( 17) Phillip Morris began the aggressive campaign to get more women to smoke with the introduction of Virginia Slims in 1968. Within only six years, the number of teenage girls smoking more than doubled.( 18) U.S. teenagers buy the most heavily promoted cigarettes, and 80% of teens consider advertising influential in encouraging them to begin to smoke.( 19)

Internationally, where advertising regulations are even more lax, the tobacco industry's promotions to youth are even more flagrant. Here are some examples...In Taiwan, R JR Nabisco arranged a rock concert with a local teen idol, with five empty packs of Winstons the only accepted "ticket," ten for a souvenir sweatshirt as well.( 20)...Young women in "cowgirl" outfits hand out free Phillip Morris Marlboros to teenagers at rock concerts and discos in Eastern Europe. Those who accept a light on the spot are rewarded with Marlboro sunglasses.( 21) (Marlboro is the leading-selling cigarette in the U.S. and the world, and the leading-selling consumer product in the world)...High school students in Taipei flood the Whiskey A Go-Go disco, where free packs of R JR Nabisco Salems are on each table.( 21)...At a high school in Buenos Aires, a woman wearing khaki safari gear and driving a jeep with the yellow Camel logo hands out free cigarettes to 15- and 16-year-olds at their lunch recess.( 21) In the developing world, per capita cigarette consumption has risen about 70% during the last 25 years.( 22)

INFACT, a consumer activist organization based in Boston, just completed a highly successful six-year boycott of General Electric, to force it out of the nuclear weapons industry. Prior to that, INFACT led a boycott of Nestle, and forced the corporation to stop targeting its baby formulas to third world mothers as a substitute for breast feeding. In April, INFACT announced its current campaign to stop the tobacco companies from marketing tobacco products to children and teenagers.

INFACT is starting with a boycott of Phillip Morris, and will expand to RJR Nabisco this fall. A "Send Joe Camel Packing" campaign has the goal of encouraging retailers not to display Joe Camel logos in their stores.

I urge all citizens to boycott all Phillip Morris products including these widely recognized brands: Kraft, Oscar Meyer, Post, Maxwell House, Jell-O, Kool-Aid, Miller, Marlboro, General Foods, Kraft Food Services, and Jacobs Suchard. Don't support R JR Nabisco either -- stay away from all Nabisco products. And if you see any Joe Camel advertising, please ask your local retailer to remove it. Clip this list of products and keep it with you when grocery shopping. Remember, substituting these products with other similar food items will hit the tobacco industry where it hurts the most -- its bottom line. And, at the same time, you will be helping to halt the spread of the tobacco epidemic which is targeted to our children and young people. You will be helping these young people and you will be helping your own pocketbook also. By curbing tobacco addiction, we can begin to cut the enormous health care cost that all taxpayers must bear. Participate and make a difference!


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(1.) US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Report of the Surgeon General. Smoking and Health in the Americas, 1992.

(2.) Peto, R., A.D. Lopez, J. Boreham, M. Thun, C. Heath. Mortality from tobacco in developed countries: Indirect estimation from national vital statistics. Lancet, 1992.

(3.) Glantz, Stanton A. Tobacco: Biology & Politics. Health Edco, 1992.

(4.) World Health Organization (WHO). Press Release -- World No-Tobacco Day: Health Versus Smoking, 5/27/93.

(5.) US DHHS. Drug Use, Drinking, and Smoking: National Survey Results from High School, College, and Young Adult Populations. 1975-88, 1989.

(6.) Ferraro, torn. The Tobacco Lobby. Multinational Monitor, Jan/Feb, 1992.

(7.) Public Citizen's Health Research Group and The Advocacy Institute. The Congressional Addiction to Tobacco: How the Tobacco Lobby Suffocates Federal Health Policy, October, 1992.

(8.) Weisskopf, Michael. Health Tax Divides Tobacco Industry. Washington Post, May 10, 1993.

(9.) US DHHS. Report of the Surgeon General, Reducing the Health Consequences of Smoking: 25 Years of Progress, 1989.

(10.) Federal Trade Commission Report to Congress for 1990, Pursuant to the Federal Cigarette Labelling and Advertising Act, 1992.

(11.) Coalition on Smoking OR Health (American Heart Association, American Lung Association, and American Cancer Society). Framework for Public Policy Activities of the Coalition on Smoking OR Health, 1993.

(12.) Bird. L. Joe Smooth for President. Adweek's Marketing Week, May 20, 1991.

(13.) Fischer, Paul M., Meyer P. Schwartz, John W. Richards, Jr., Adam O. Goldstein, and Tina H. Rojas. Brand Logo Recognition by Children Aged Three to Six Years. JAMA, December 11, 1991.

(14.) DiFranza, Joseph R., John W. Richards, Paul M. Paulman, Nancy Wolf-Gillespie, Christopher Fletcher, Robert D. Jaffe, David Murray. R JR Nabisco's Cartoon Camel Promotes Camel Cigarettes to Children. JAMA, December 11, 1991.

(15.) Smoking Control Advocacy Resource Center (SCARC). Action Alert, Tobacco and Sports, May 23, 1991.

(16.) US DHHS, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Study, Cited in Wall Street Journal, April 2, 1993.

(17.) STAT. Cigarette Advertising Increases Smoking. Tobacco Free Youth Reporter, Fall, 1992.

(18.) Tye, Joe B. fusting After Children: The Tobacco Industry's Investment in a Profitable Future. Social Science Record, The Journal of the New York State Council for the Social Studies, Fall, 1988.

(19.) Goldstein, A.O., P.M. Fischer, J.W. Richards, D. Creten, The Influence of Cigarette Advertising on Adolescent Smoking, 1987.

(20.) Shalom, Stephen R. Made in the USA: Deadly Exports. Z Magazine, April, 1992.

(21.) Ecenbarger, William. America's New Merchants of Death. Reader's Digest, April, 1993.

(22.) World Health Organization (WHO). Press Release. World No-Tobacco Day: Health Versus Smoking, May 27, 1993.

Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients.


By George Milowe

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