by Mike Ferguson
(St. Charles, MO) – Everyone knows that smoking is a bad idea. It’s unhealthy, it’s expensive and, frankly, it stinks.
So why do so many still do it and why do so many young people still start the addiction every day?
According to Matt Kuhlenbeck from the Missouri Foundation for Health, there is no one answer. The reasons people start lighting up are as individual as the people themselves.
When it comes to convincing young people to stay away from tobacco, though, sometimes the best approach is to go beyond the health warnings. Kuhlenbeck thinks letting teens know they are a financial target for tobacco companies is a start. That’s the empowerment idea behind a program called “Smokebusters” being used in many Missouri schools.
“How are they being manipulated to look at tobacco in a way that it’s attractive? So, how are advertising documents and other things being designed to make tobacco look attractive?
“These programs are designed to empower youth to make these decisions on their own, provide them with the tools and resources and understanding to know, one, what the health issues are…but then also understand how marketing is used to influence behavior.”
In other words, at an age where telling someone not to try something often makes them want to try it out of youthful rebellion, let them in on the fact that tobacco companies are trying to tell them to start smoking. Maybe they’ll push back the same way.
Much of the Smokebusters program is youth-driven.
It’s a program for those in the eighth through eleventh grades and focuses on critical thinking skills as much as on the science of tobacco and health.
For adults already hooked on tobacco who want to quit: there’s help available.
While Kuhlenbeck recommends starting with your doctor, many free or inexpensive resources are available. Those options include the 1-800-QUIT-NOW hotline and www.BecomeAnEx.org, which is an online community of people who are trying to stop the tobacco habit.
It’s not too late to stop, no matter how long you’ve been puffing away on cigarettes or cigars. According to Kuhlenbeck, “When you quit smoking, you immediately begin to change the physical aspects of what’s happening to you. Within six months, you will be a different person physically as a result. ”
One of the newest nicotine products on the market may also be one of the most confusing ones right now.
They are called “electronic cigarettes” and they do not have any tobacco in them. The “e-cigs” deliver nicotine through heating a liquid that turns to vapor and is then inhaled the way a regular cigarette is smoked.
Cynthia Cabrera is the Executive Director of the Smoke Free Alternatives Trades Association, which represents e-cig makers and retailers. To her, the difference means they are not in the same category of products. “Vaping”, she says, is not just another way of smoking and should not be treated like a tobacco issue.
Some consumer and health advocates have expressed concern that electronic cigarettes, while not delivering the carcinogens that tobacco products contain, could lead people into a nicotine addiction that might result in smoking later.
Cabrera says that’s not what e-cigs are for.
“They’re not designed to lure nonsmokers. There’s no interest for nonsmokers. What this is, is an adult alternative for people who want to get their nicotine fix, their hit, but they don’t want to do it with a traditional tobacco, combustible cigarette.”
In fact, Cabrera says, some electronic cigarettes don’t contain nicotine at all.
While she is careful to say that e-cigs are not meant to be a smoking replacement program, she does point out what consumers are not getting when choosing them over regular cigarettes.
“Since they don’t contain tobacco they also don’t contain hundreds, up to thousands, of different chemicals that can be found in tobacco.”
She says there’s another benefit to smokers trying an electronic cigarette instead of a tobacco one: there’s no smoke smell. The vapor doesn’t have an odor and it dissipates in about 20 seconds after being breathed out.
In that sense, it’s safer than a regular cigarette because there is no secondhand smoke to impact everyone else. As far as the impact on the smoker (or person who is “vaping” in this case) goes, Cabrera points out that there’s not enough research to make claims one way or the other, other than to acknowledge that the tobacco and related carcinogens are not present in them.
Still, the health debate with e-cigs involves the same people as it does with tobacco, according to Cabrera.
“This is a product that’s marketed to current smokers. People who are non smokers are not interested in this product.”
On the web:
Missouri Foundation for Health: www.MFFH.org
Smoke Free Alternatives Trades Association: http://www.sfata.org/