Tobacco’s Stubborn Power
“Product of a proud land. Tobacco. It’s as proud a part of the American tradition as the Statue of Liberty.”
These words are from a recent advertisement for L&M by a cigarette company which knows no shame. The cigarette industry has 60 million Americans hooked. It can manipulate their psychology in many directions. One series of ads for Virginia Slims now connects smoking by women with women’s liberation. It reprints a demeaning 1908 classified ad for a female houseworker and then places under it a banner message: “You’ve come a long way, Baby.”
The Harvard Medical School health newsletter presents a different message: “People who smoke more than a pack a day have about a threefold increased risk of a heart attack — not to mention a 23 times increased chance of getting lung cancer. However, it is clear that people who stop smoking (even after many years) greatly reduce this risk. In other words, it pays to stop.”
Physicians have heard many patients with lung cancer say they are sorry they did not stop. Do you know any people who say they’re sorry they did stop?
The tobacco industry says it’s giving people what they want taste, flavor and entertainment. But these companies are also selling people what they don’t want — cancer, heart disease, bronchitis and other ailments.
Prohibited five years ago from advertising on radio and television, the industry, by the same token, escaped the adverse impact of the increasingly effective anti-cigarette ads which were transmitted over the same medium as a public service.
“Advertising does not create smokers; advertising creates brand loyalty,” says William Kloepfer, Jr., vice-president of the Tobacco Institute in Washington. If that is accurate, smokers are paying over $320 million a year (the industry’s advertising budget) to become brand-loyal. But what about advertising’s influence on youngsters who are smoking, at higher levels than ever?
It is difficult to believe that advertising, which associates smoking with vigor, youth and glamour, does not attract more teenagers to their tragic habit.
The Department of Health, Education and Welfare’s effort for public education against smoking totals a mere $900,000 a year. This sum can be compared with the Department of Agriculture’s outlay for subsidies and promotion of tobacco products of about $59 million in 1975.
Out of that sum, $30 million goes to promote the export of cigarettes to other countries, under, if you will, the Food for Peace program.
The persistence of these cross purposes in the use and misuse of the taxpayer’s money can be traced quite simply to the united power of the tobacco states’ senators and representatives. Their stubborn power is facilitated by the abdication of most of Congress on this issue.
It would be cheaper economically for the country and a major pro-health measure if the government were to guarantee jobs to any workers or compensate losses by small farmers dislocated by a new public policy directed toward eliminating subsidies and discouraging smoking.
The Swedish government has embarked upon a major educational movement, starting in the elementary schools, to inform its people of the diseases associated with smoking and ways to avoid that indulgence.
In Stockholm a pack of cigarettes costs the equivalent of $1.50, reflecting heavy taxes. In this country and abroad, the growing demand by nonsmokers not to be exposed to smokers in confined places (like public transportation and public buildings) is making headway.
The television medium also could be receptive to encourage public service anti-smoking messages which now have been all but taken off the airways.
These are some of the things that can and should be done by a nation that recognizes the nature of cigarette addiction so cleverly sustained and encouraged over the years by the tobacco companies and Madison Avenue. Yet Washington remains far more a bastion of tobacco power than of health power.
If you want to break the habit, avoid starting it, or persuade a friend to break the habit, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for free materials to Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), 2000 H St. NW Washington, D.C. 20006.