America’s Smoking Percentage

Forty-eight million Americans smoked in 1997 which is equivalent to about twenty-five percent of the nation’s adult population, according to a U.S. government survey released in November, 1999 (Cooper n.p.). According to Michael Ericksen, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office on Smoking and Health, the smoking rate among young adults ages 18-24 rose about four percent because of the increase in teen smoking seen over the next ten years.

He said, “As these teenagers have grown and aged and become young adults, they’ve brought with them their addiction” (Cooper n.p.). LuAnn Pierce, associate director of the American Cancer Society’s Texas division, agrees saying, “The majority of smokers — nine out of ten — start smoking before they’re 18” (Tanamachi n.p.). Obviousl, America has a tremendous smoking problem which predominately begin in the young perople the nation. What can prevent these kids from committing long term suicide from smoking?

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Many people believe in many different solutions. Experts say the only proven way to reduce smoking is to raise the price of cigarettes, through increased sales taxes. Kenneth Warner, professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health who has studied tobacco for twenty years, says, “Price is a significant factor in all products — as price rises, demand goes down” (Tanamachi n.p.). Other experts believe the tobacco industry’s marketing and advertising should be banned because they manipulate adolescents.

Ken August, spokesperson for the California Department of Health, believes, “You can’t tell young people they’re going to get sick…but when you tell them they’re being used by adults — that really gets through” (Tanamachi n.p.). President Clinton agrees that marketing for tobacco should be stopped, but he also is convinced that passing tobacco legislation that will reduce teen smoking and benefit the well-being of American kids will help the smoking dilemma as well.

Unfortunately, with the tobacco industry’s strong, forty million dollar effort in lobbying, they will blockade any plan to reduce teen smoking. In fact, senators recently could have passed such a bill that would help save one million lives over the next five years by cutting youth smoking in half, but they sided with the tobacco lobby instead (The White House n.p.) which demonstrates how the communities and families of this country are on their own in the battle against tobacco, a product which will claim four million lives during the next ten years (Hamilton 102) and about 400,000 deaths annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Cooper n.p.).

As the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, the country as a whole, must do less cooperation with the tobacco industry and instead spend more time educating children about how tobacco contaminates people. The country should not rely on higher pricers, banned advertisement, or effective legislation to prevent teenage smoking.

Raising the sales tax on cigarettes would reduce the amount of cigarettes bought by teens, but educating teens on long term financial costs of cigarettes would have a larger effect on teen smokers. Americans buy more that 500 billion cigarettes every year; teens under eighteen alone smoke seventeen billion of these cigarettes. How much does smoking cost a teenager? For a typical pack-a-day habit, teens spend $700-$800 a year each. When a teenager learns that the actual cost for sustaining a cigarette addiction takes up almost four working hours a week at minimum wage, they might think of better ways for spending their money (Lang 75).

Plus, adults who live below the poverty line are more likely to be smokers that those above the poverty line, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. High school dropouts are also three times more likely to smoke than college graduates (Cooper n.p.). Instead of buying cigarettes, which also come with all sorts of breathing problems, odor problems, and aging boosters, a teen can buy sixty dollars worth of clothes a month, treat fifty friends to a movie followed by nineteen full topping pizzas to eat while reading 162 comic books, and better yet, they could save money towards a college education (Lang 75).

Furthermore, not only is smoking unhealthy and costly to smokers themselves, but also the country loses an estimated fifty-four billion dollars annually in lost work, productivity, and medical costs (Hamilton 101). More specifically, seven percent of health care costs in the United States are for treating smoking-related illnesses, which adds up to fifty billion dollars in health care.

To put these statistics in a language teenagers may understand, tell them for every pack of cigarettes they buy $2.06 goes to their future medical bills and taxpayers, their parents and even complete strangers, will pay $0.89 for every pack they buy to help cover other people’s medical bills. How rude! Smokers use thirty-four percent more sick days than nonsmokers.

Even worse, a quarter of all fire deaths in homes are directly caused by tobacco products. These fires, 187,100 every year, resulted in 951 deaths, 3,381 injuries, and property damage of $552 million. If teenagers do not care about whether they are hurting their own bodies and financial status, maybe they should open their eyes to see how avoiding or quitting smoking would benefit the United States as a whole.

The tobacco industry spends two billion dollars in advertising cigarettes per year, making them the most heavily marketed product in America (Hamilton 92), but cute pictures of camels and masculine impressions of cowboys are not the true reasons why teenagers smoke, which is why if the United States wants to stop teenage smoking then teens must know it is okay to quit; it is honorable to be a nonsmoker. Companies such as R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company target youth in its ads (Tanamachi n.p.).

Why shouldn’t they if almost ninety percent of smokers try cigarettes before the age of twenty-one (Hamilton 86)? In fact, eighty-nine percent of people who become lifelong smokers become addicted before the age of nineteen which means if the tobacco companies recruit smokers at an early age, chances are they will keep that business for years, even generations to come (Ayer 18). Although, is the real reason teenagers smoke because of good marketing? No. As John Banzhaf, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health, an anti-smoking lobbying group, says, “Even if you ban all advertising…it will not cause everybody to quit” (Tanamachi n.p.).

Mr. Banzhaf is right. Real teenage smokers have been asked why they smoke even though health hazards of tobacco prove to be very dangerous. One blunt young smoker replied, “A lot of people smoke to give the finger to the world” (Ayer 15). Rebellion, a very popular reason teens smoke, begins with the family, along with typical teenage mentality. For instance, ten to twelve year old kids who think their parents are too strict, have been found in studies to be more likely to start smoking (Lang 29).

Moreover, most people know being a teenager causes a lot of stress, which is why many do smoke, however, what teens do not realize is that smoking does not merely hurt their bodies, but it hurts their minds as well. Nicotine not only addicts people, but also it raises levels of certain brain chemicals which cause depression. Therefore, “high school students who smoke are eighteen times more likely than nonsmokers to attempt suicide…and…light smokers are five to six times more apt to try suicide” (Lang 31).

Many young people believe smoking shows they have control over themselves when, in fact, cigarettes actually become in control over smokers. The more people smoke, the harder it will be for them to quit in the future. Ask how many teens want to be trapped in addiction: craving the cigarettes, feeling withdrawals without the cigarettes, and trying to quit, but finding instead just how dependent they are on what used to be a seemingly harmless drag (Lang 33-36).

For the forty percent of girls and twenty-five percent of boys who smoke in order to control their weight (Lang 32), maybe they should try becoming addicted to exercise instead of smoking. They would live longer and have a happier life at the same time. Those sixty-six percent of teenagers who start smoking because of curiosity (Ayer 18), may stop being curious if they knew that “out of every hundred people that start smoking, approximately seventy five continue doing so until they die (Hamilton 101).

Being a teenager only lasts part of a lifetime, but smoking could become a whole lifetime. Addiction will surely follow. Teenage problems and mentalities are the real reasons why teenagers smoke which means approaching teens about smoking needs to be reformed, not through illegalizing cigarette advertisements, but through education.