21 Mar We Know the Dangers, But Smoking Still Kills
The year 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the surgeon general’s report that first publicly identified the dangers of smoking. Since that time, the percentage of Americans who smoke has dropped from 42 percent to 19 percent.
However, 19 percent of the population equals about 43.8 million people in the United States who still regularly engage in this dangerous habit. Furthermore, the rate at which smoking has declined over the last decade or so has reached a plateau and seems to be holding strong at 19 percent. And even though we’ve seen a decline in the last 50 years, smoking remains the biggest cause of preventable death in this country.
Change in Public Attitude, Policies
In the years since the first warning about smoking from the surgeon general, public opinion about smoking and laws about smoking have changed drastically. Smoking was once permitted in nearly every public location, but has since been outlawed in places like restaurants, bars, office buildings and even many public parks.
Legislation over the last five decades has not only restricted the locations in which smokers may light up, but also limited the ways in which tobacco companies may advertise their products. These companies are no longer permitted to produce advertisements that might appeal to children. Cigarette ads may no longer appear on television or radio, tobacco companies may not sponsor cultural events like concerts or sporting competitions, and cigarette company logos may not appear on clothing.
Where smoking was once seen as commonplace, acceptable or even desirable, it is now seen as a vice by a large portion of the population. Many smokers encounter prejudice, unsolicited advice or condemnation from strangers if they choose to smoke in public. Many restrict their smoking to their own homes, and approximately 40 percent of smokers lie about the fact that they smoke.
All of these changes have had a significant effect on American smoking habits, but hopes that smoking would continue to decline until it disappeared altogether now seem far-fetched. Many long-time smokers continue to smoke, and hundreds of new smokers pick up cigarettes for the first time every day.
Short-Term Attraction Vs. Long-Term Risk
Despite the many millions of dollars that have gone into anti-smoking education campaigns over recent years, smoking remains attractive to many people. Young people are often susceptible to the lure of what is seen as an adult behavior, and particularly vulnerable to peer pressure when others in their social circles begin to smoke.
Adults may be influenced by peer pressure as well, and become “social smokers” who only smoke in the company of others, or only smoke when they are drinking. Adults with stressful jobs may turn to cigarettes to relieve anxiety or help them to stay awake during long hours at the office, while adults fighting weight gain may turn to cigarettes because they know that some people who begin to smoke will lose weight.
Some people who have been smoking for decades were not aware of the health risks when they first began to smoke. However, anti-smoking campaigns and required warning labels mean that the addictive nature and health risks of cigarettes are now almost universally known.
However, the health risks associated with smoking are long-term, and may not begin to appear until many years after a person has begun to smoke. Many people believe that they will not become regular smokers, and are not significantly deterred by health problems that may not appear until years down the road.
A Lifelong Addiction
Many people also underestimate the addictive potential of cigarettes. They believe that they must smoke multiple cigarettes on a regular basis to become addicted, when, in actuality, nicotine cravings can begin after only one cigarette, and the majority of young adults who smoke three to four cigarettes will begin to smoke regularly.
It is also common for people to underestimate the strength of a nicotine addiction and assume that they can easily quit if they do become addicted. The reality is that in spite of the many tools now available to help people quit, smoking remains a very difficult habit to overcome. Modern cigarettes have been shown to be as addictive as heroin or cocaine, and some people report much greater difficulty quitting cigarettes than recovering from a “hard drug” addiction. Even people who successfully quit often report that the cravings never entirely disappear.
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