I recently spoke to a young man who has been smoking cigarettes regularly for more than 15 years. His doctor found signs of precancerous cells in his throat and advised him to quit. The doctor prescribed Nicorette chewing gum, which is designed to suppress the body's craving for nicotine. Additionally, the scare provoked the young man to join a smoking cessation program.
Still, the smoker remarked, "Nothing has worked or helped me. I'm really addicted to cigarettes. I can't stop."
This story points up a major flaw of the current system of warning labels on cigarette packages -- the tobacco industry's failure to warn of the dependency process associated with smoking cigarettes. Product law in the United States requires that consumers be informed of the known dangers in a product that cannot be eliminated from it. Although becoming dependent on nicotine is nothing new, it is wrong to assume that everyone is aware of this. Smokers rationalize their smoking behavior by explaining to themselves and others that "It helps me relax," "It gets me going when I'm tired" and "I'm in fine health, smoking won't hurt me."
Manufacturers have a legal duty to warn of the habitual properties of cigarettes, which are the main factors that help maintain the smoking habit. Thousands of research projects and observations about smokers being unable to quit suggests that smoking frequently becomes involuntary after one becomes dependent. Therefore, it is unreasonable to believe that smokers can be held completely responsible for their smoking actions once they have acquired the habit.
Cases have been filed against tobacco companies by ex-smokers who have become ill after smoking for years and families of those who died from tobacco-related diseases such as lung cancer, chronic bronchitis and emphysema. The tobacco industry has not paid one cent to injured parties. Lung cancer, rarely occurring in non-smokers, will cause an estimated 125,600 deaths in the United States this year alone, says the American Cancer Society.
There are an estimated 33 million former cigarette smokers in this country today. Most of them succeeded in kicking the habit with tremendous mental hardship and physical withdrawl symptoms. Over 90 percent of cigarette smokers have tried to quit for health or other reasons, but have found that living without cigarette smoking is impossible. Thus the habit continues.
Approximately 54 million Americans remain cigarette smokers. Once the behavior is established and dependency occurs, the mental decision to quit is weakened by the body's dependency on nicotine.
A major concern is that the majority of smokers began smoking as children and teen-agers. At that point, they are not yet fully responsible for their actions, but the social and psychological pressures to appear mature, successful, sexy, glamorous and popular lead to various actions, including smoking, which is considered by R.J. Reynolds and the Tobacco Institute as "an adult activity."
Looking and feeling like an adult is what most teen-agers hope to achieve as early as possible. Teens who are lured toward cigarettes to achieve a grown-up appearance will continue to smoke regardless of ads or educational programs later in life urging them to decide for themselves.
There is a need to advise these children and teen-agers of facts, such as the high risk of becoming dependent on cigarettes and of the thousands of people who die or become disabled as a result of smoking. The complexity of the problem lies in the difficulty of getting information across to this group. Few young people believe that they could become dependent and possibly become chronically ill 20 years from now as a result of cigarette smoking.
Adequate warnings about dependency and further educational programs aimed at children and teens will probably further reduce the establishment of cigarette-smoking behavior and may help people realize at a young age the tremendous personal and societal costs of smoking cigarettes.