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Are tobacco companies to blame for addiction?

POSTED: March 9, 2014 1:00 a.m.

Cigarette manufacturers have received flak for the health dangers of their products since the first surgeon general’s report on the subject was released in 1964. Parents, activists and even former Marlboro men have spoken out against their products and practices.

Now that I am a nonsmoker, I often wonder if these companies should be held responsible for their products? Cigarettes can kill people. But other industries release products that can lead to death as well, and few receive the same amount of backlash.

Car accidents killed 32,367 people in 2011, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Heart disease caused almost 600,000 deaths in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Unfortunately, smoking seems to be killing people at an incredibly high rate. The number of deaths related to secondhand smoke alone outranks car crash fatalities by nearly 10,000, based on data from the CDC. And smoking-related illnesses kill about 480,000 Americans each year. Additionally, the two leading causes of death among Americans, heart disease and cancer, are common complications in long-term smokers.

Many people say it is the smoker’s fault for picking up the habit in the first place, and I agree. I chose to smoke, and I chose to quit.

That said, cigarettes, along with any other product that contains nicotine, are addicting. And quitting them is incredibly difficult. It took me years to make it this far. And cigarettes are becoming more dangerous.

Because of changes in the design and composition of cigarettes, smokers today face a higher rate of lung cancer and other diseases than smokers in the 1950s despite smoking fewer cigarettes on average, according to the latest Surgeon General’s report.

In January, a report published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research found even though nicotine content in cigarettes has remained at about the same level since the early 2000s, the amount of nicotine delivered to the smoker has been rising. The rise varied in amount based on brand and manufacturer, but the trend suggests that changes in cigarette design are leading them to be more efficient and, consequently, more addictive.

While those results have not yet been repeated by other studies, it is troubling when all available data suggests cigarette manufacturers are creating products that are more addictive and dangerous today than they were before the industry was heavily regulated.

Major health problems such as cancer and heart failure affect everyone. Expensive medical bills can increase the cost of Medicare and certain diseases can remove otherwise healthy people from the workforce. If we are going to regulate the tobacco industry, which we should, it would make since to monitor and limit the amount of nicotine that is actually ingested.

This could help prevent cigarettes from becoming more addictive than they already are and help mitigate the social costs associated with the habit.

On the other hand, some companies out there are going in the opposite direction. CVS Caremark Corp., known for its pharmacies, announced last month it was going to quit selling cigarettes. Considering drugstores are quickly becoming centers of health care, I think the decision will benefit the company and their customers in the long run.

CVS is just the latest example of the waning social acceptance of tobacco. This annoyed me when I was an active smoker, but it is something I celebrate now that I quit.

It is nice to see a company take a moral stance against smoking, whether or not its motivation was financial or philanthropic. Hopefully more retailers will follow suit.

Andrew Akers is a University of North Georgia student, a member of The Times staff and lives in Clarkesville. Contact him at aakers@gainesvilletimes.com or 770-718-3413.


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