Girls’ Future-Going Up in Smoke?

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Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Anne Stover, BLI’s Summer Intern, Senior, Asbury College
Angie Vineyard, Research Fellow, The Beverly LaHaye Institute

Despite a deluge of information about the dangers of smoking, a recent report reveals that young women are still lighting up-approximately 1 out of every 5 teenage girls is now a smoker. Every day in the United States about 1500 girls begin smoking and nearly all of them begin using tobacco before graduating from high school. According to Dr. Janice Crouse, Senior Fellow, The Beverly LaHaye Institute, “Experts agree that few people begin smoking as an adult. The tobacco companies target teenagers because that is the window of opportunity for them to get hooked-90 percent of smokers became addicted as teens or pre-teens.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that slightly under a third (27.7 percent) of female high school students smoke. Among white, non-Hispanic girls, the percentage jumps to almost 40 percent (39.8 percent).

Another recently released report revealed that lung cancer mortality in women causes more deaths than breast cancer and uterine cancer combined. Some reports indicate that every cigarette cuts a little more than 10 minutes off a smoker’s life expectancy. According to the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts and Figures 2002, lung cancer will kill approximately 65,700 women in the United States this year.

But regardless of those statistics, the anti-smoking messages are simply not getting through to girls in time to prevent them from becoming addicted to tobacco. It certainly does not help that cigarette companies target young women specifically. Women have their own cigarette brands, like Virginia Slims, whose advertisements appeal to a young woman’s desire for glamour, independence and maturity. Television, magazine and movie advertisements feature smokers as young, thin, active women with healthy, bright smiles. But Michael Eriksen, the CDC’s director on Smoking and Health said,” If current patterns continue, 5 million children under the age of 18 alive today in the United States will die prematurely as a result of addiction to cigarette smoking.”

Perhaps the reason anti-smoking messages aren’t getting through is because there are those that don’t want the messages to get through.

Three years ago tobacco companies agreed to pay $200 billion to states to cover medical costs due to smoking and also to help prevent kids from starting the habit. Lauding the settlement as a huge victory, Washington State Attorney General Christine Gregoire was reported as saying “We are getting this industry off the backs of our kids.”

But once that money was passed on to states, very few showed that they actually cared about the smoking habits of their kids.

A 2002 report released jointly by the American Lung Association, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids found that one New York county spent $700,000 of that money on a public golf course sprinkler system and $24 million for a county jail. And Alaska spent $3.5 million of the tobacco settlement funds to upgrade shipping docks. But the most flagrant misappropriation of these funds took place in North Carolina, where $42 million was actually used to market tobacco and improve the tobacco curing process. So much for prevention!

Was it undue influence of “Big Tobacco” on states or was it apathy and gross mismanagement on the part of state officials? Who knows? But one thing is rather ironically clear: most smokers want to stop.

According to the United States Surgeon General’s 2001 Report on Women and Smoking, three-fourths of women smokers (75.2 percent) want to kick the habit completely.

The question is, do we want them to? After all, it’s only our girls’ futures at stake.

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