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ISSUE 116 VOL 7 PUBLISHED 11/1/2002

Students Light Up Despite Hazordous Risks

By Anonymous
Contributing Writer

Friday, November 1, 2002

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Tobacco is responsible for approximately 400,000 deaths a year, which adds up to one-fifth of total deaths in America. If the habit is so deadly, why do so many people choose to partake in it?

The attraction of smoking

Many people choose to light up for the first time during their teen years. Although recent generations have been educated about the dangers of smoking from school and the media, many adolescents still choose to smoke. During adolescence, some teenagers ignore the long-term consequences of smoking due to an optimistic bias. They may understand the negative effects of a behavior but feel as if they are invincible to the consequences. The same optimistic bias applies to reckless driving, binge drinking and overeating. People choose to experiment with smoking during adolescence for multiple reasons. The stereotype of seeing the teenage years as a time of rebellion and experimentation remains true for some. For others, social pressure or stress control may be the catalyst. Despite conflicting research, the idea that smoking is a relaxing and calming pastime is physiologically untrue. Unless a person is physically addicted to nicotine, a cigarette produces stimulating, not depressive effects. A teenagers peer circle is a large indicator of his or her decision to smoke cigarettes; the more friends one has that smoke, the more likely the person is to light up. Although sometimes a person is directly pressured to experiment with smoking, the pressure may come indirectly as well. Instead of being asked or told to try smoking, a teenager may light up to feel accepted by a certain group. Factors such as intimidation, inferiority, and popularity filter in to the decision to smoke or not to smoke. Another issue that influences the decision to smoke is a persons exposure to advertising. Several tobacco companies market to a young audience. In the 90s, cartoon images, such as Joe Camel, used to market to young children became illegal for companies to use in advertising. Once a person has experimented with smoking, he or she is likely to decide to continue smoking or never light up again.

Effects on health

Some disadvantages of smoking are obvious to the naked eye. Teeth may start to yellow. The cost of a pack of cigarettes each day may easily exceed $100 per month. A smokers clothing begins to smell over time. “I could stand on the wrong side of a bonfire and get the same effect,” Michael Lewis ’02 said. Unfortunately, severe effects on health are not as obvious. Smoking has been linked to approximately 40 percent of heart disease cases, which are the leading killers of American men and women. It is the direct cause of chronic bronchitis, emphysema and lung cancer. In addition to causing lung cancer, it increases risks of almost all cancers in the body. Smoking can cause premature births and birth defects in newborns. In Minnesota, 17 percent of deaths can be attributed to tobacco use. Because smoking is a personal choice, it is considered a preventable behavior. A person typically has control over the decision to start smoking, so when reviewing statistics, smoking is responsible for the highest number of preventable deaths in Minnesota. Other preventable death causes include sexually transmitted diseases, car accidents, and mental health illnesses.

Tobacco research: cause or correlation?

Big Tobacco, a group of the seven most successful tobacco companies in the United States, often criticizes research done on the ill effects of smoking. It would be highly unethical to conduct a scientific experiment on tobacco use because the medical profession sees negative health effects associated with smoking. Because no official experiment has been done, Big Tobacco feels it is impossible to imply that there is a causal relationship between smoking and ill effects. Unfortunately for Big Tobacco, researchers found a way to support a causal relationship without performing an unethical study. Epidemiologists state that a causal relationship exists if certain conditions, such as a dose-response relationship, exist. Because the seven necessary criteria were found in earlier studies, researchers were able to determine that smoking has a direct effect on health. Trends in health also support this relationship; for example, when the number of women who smoke increased, a higher incidence of lung cancer among women was found several years later.

Secondhand smoke and legislation

What happens when one cannot control his or her proximity to cigarette smoke? Often, children who have parents that smoke cannot separate themselves from the smoke itself. Also, many restaurants, airports, hotels, and even some public transportation lines in the United States allow smoking within the establishments. Although some people pass off secondhand smoke as innocent and non-invasive, others avoid it at all costs to prevent any chance of ill effects. What may seem harmless to some and deadly to others proves to be dangerous through statistics. The carcinogens found in secondhand smoke are responsible for approximately 53,000 deaths each year, according to studies reported in “Circulation” magazine. Although more and more businesses are making their grounds smoke-free, an alarming number of places do not even offer a non-smoking section. In some national airports across the country, smoking lounges provide a place for smokers to light up. Although this may protect non-smokers from being affected by others’ behaviors, the smokers who visit these lounges are exposing themselves to even more dangerous fumes. Steps have been taken to prohibit the deadly effects of secondhand smoke around the country. In California, smoking is not allowed in any public restaurant. Last year, voters in Duluth supported ordinances that limit exposure to secondhand smoke. As more people become aware that secondhand smoke can be just as deadly as firsthand smoke, the need to take action increases as well. In a 2001 Gallup poll, 52 percent of the people surveyed believed secondhand smoke is dangerous, compared with only 36 percent of people in 1994. Because smoking legislation is currently in the hands of city and local governments, if one is interested in supporting a smoke-free community, he or she must contact local government officials. Tobacco companies are pushing for smoking laws to be the states’ responsibilities. This action, although not likely to be taken, would significantly slow the process that prevents deaths from secondhand smoke. If you are interested in quitting smoking or assisting a friend with this battle, the Minnesota Tobacco Hotline is willing to help. To access the hotline, simply pick up the phone and dial 1-877-270-STOP. –Information gathered from, ”Circulation,” and Gallup Polls.

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