For a long time, smoking was seen as part of the rites of passage into adulthood. Teens were lighting up in large numbers as part of their introduction to becoming adults. Starting in the 1950’s, results of studies conducted on the effects of cigarette smoking began to be published, among which was the link to lung cancer. Tobacco companies reacted by setting up the Tobacco Industry Research Committee (TIRC) in 1954 specifically to counteract these reports. By the 1960’s, as the public became more aware of the adverse health effects of smoking, the number of smokers started to decline. In 1966, the Surgeon General’s Warning became part of tobacco packaging; and the number of smokers continued to decline. Tobacco companies stepped up advertising, targeting a younger demographic. The Joe Camel campaign of the R. J. Reynolds company used a cartoon character to push the image of smoking to a younger market. Tobacco companies sponsor sports events, donate to youth organizations, organize programs to talk to youth. As a result of these advertising strategies, although the number of adult smokers was declining, the number of teenagers lighting up did not start to decrease until the late 1990’s.
The adverse health effects of tobacco use has been proven in many researches, the results of which are readily available to the public. However, because of the addictive nature of the nicotine in tobacco, its use still persists. The focus of anti-smoking efforts now is on preventing youth from starting to use cigarettes and other tobacco products.
This report aims to shed some light on the issue by discussing a few of the claims related to youth smoking and determining how statistics support them. The report is divided into three parts. The first part presents the claims and the statistics used to support them. The second discusses the credibility of the statistics. The third, presents the conclusions.
In its website, KidsHealth, an advocacy NGO, said about youth smoking: “Almost everyone knows that smoking causes cancer, emphysema, and heart disease; that it can shorten your life by 10 years or more; and that the habit can cost a smoker thousands of dollars a year”. As a result, 1 out of 5 deaths in the US are smoking related.
The nicotine in cigarettes is highly addictive. Thus, “once you start, it’s hard to stop” (kidshealth.org). Many smokers start young. The article claims that statistics show 9 out of 10 smokers started before they were 18 years old. Although the number of young smokers has been steadily declining in the past decade, there are still about 20% of high school students who smoke.
The USDHHS Surgeon General’s 2012 report on youth smoking quotes the following statistics from the 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. (a) Each day, 3800 youth under the age of 18 start smoking; (b) 1 in 4 high school senior and 1 in 3 young adults under the age of 26 smoke; (c) Of every 3 young smokers, only 1 will quit and 1 of those remaining will die from tobacco-related causes; (d) 88% of adult daily smokers said that they started smoking before the age of 18 (qtd. in USDHHS Surgeon General’s Report 1-2).
Critical Review of the Information
KidsHealth is an organization that provides information and advice on issues related to children’s health and parenting. It is an advocacy group. It seeks to persuade people to espouse their cause; to influence decision-makers and policy-makers to take their side. Because of the nature of their business, everything they say has a slant, a bias for their cause. On the issue of teen smoking, we expect the organization to have an anti-smoking bias and, therefore, present statistics that favor their stand.
On the other hand, the Surgeon General’s Office is a government organization. It is expected to protect the rights of all citizens, including the tobacco companies. It might be expected not to favor one or the other side.
The KidsHealth did not present where the statistics were obtained, nor what authorities provided the interpretations. The article has no author; it depends only on the name built up by the website as a credible source of information on the topics of youth and health. The reference list in the USDHHS report contains a large number of articles from professional journals which may be seen as credible and authoritative in their respective fields. The report is clearly well-researched and the conclusions are well-documented.
Statistics are used to support most of the assertions. However, we can see that the first article presents the statistics in easy-to-understand manner, e.g. 1 out of 5 deaths, and does not always cite the source of the information. For instance, the assertion that “Almost everyone knows that” (KidsHealth 1) may make for easy reading but does not really make the statement more credible. The USDHHS report, on the other hand, gives a scholarly presentation of the statistics, citing not only the percentages but also the source of the statistic, e.g. 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. While many will appreciate the way the first article was written because it is short and to the point, the critical reader will agree that the preponderance of information from acknowledged experts in their respective fields that is seen in the USDHHS report is more authoritative.
All of the articles reviewed were to the point, with no significant changes in topic in the course of the presentation of information. Extraneous data was minimal. There were no portions where the reader’s attention was diverted away from the topic being discussed.
Most, if not all, of the statistics presented were based on measurable, countable, physically observable variables. Examples are: number of students, age, deaths, dollars, time.
After subjecting the information presented to a critical review, I can conclude that youth smoking is definitely a major health issue. The effects on health are well-documented. The number of people dying from diseases that are directly or indirectly attributable to smoking is significant. Most of these deaths are preventable simply by people choosing to become nonsmokers.
Using the data given in the USDHHS report, I also agree with the observation that the best way to stop smoking is by preventing young people from even starting to smoke. Although the number of youth who smoke or use tobacco-related products has been declining, numbers close to zero would be more desirable. The nicotine in cigarettes is very addictive and the statistics support the idea that smokers who start young find it more difficult to quit. Among adult smokers, 88% started smoking before age 18 and 99% started before they were 26 years old (qtd. in USDHSS report 3). This presents the idea that if someone could be persuaded or convinced not to touch tobacco until he or she was past 26 years of age, then there would only be a very small number of smokers (about 1%).
The amount of resources spent or wasted because of tobacco use includes: lost productive hours because of sickness or premature death, advertising on the part of tobacco companies to project tobacco use as attractive or desirable, information gathering and dissemination on effects of tobacco use, and purchasing cigarettes to smoke. It was surprising to me how much these amount to and how many persons and organizations are involved on both sides of the issue. It also raises the question of whether these resources could have been better used elsewhere with more beneficial impacts.
The information that I received in the course of preparing this report has convinced me that the use of tobacco is harmful not only to the smoker but to most of the rest of society; not only because of the effects on health but also to the economy. It is surprising that all these harmful effects could be minimized or even eliminated by just convincing young people not to touch tobacco. Of course, this is a formidable challenge.
Babcock, Pamela.”Helping Workers Kick the Habit”. Annual Editions: Health 32nd Edition (2011/2012): 66-69. Print.
Borio, Gene.”Tobacco Timeline”. tobacco.org. n.d. Web. 12 April 2013.
“Cigarettes Are So Last Century”. WHO Western Pacific Region (2008). Print.
”Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults: Report of the Surgeon General, 2012”. US Dept. of Health and Human Services. Web. 12 April 2013.
“Smoking”. kidshealth.org, February 2013. Web. 12 April 2013.