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Up in Smoke: The Truth About Smoking

by Tiffany Tarin, health consultant, from US


Do you know what the most common drug addiction is? According to the Surgeon General of the United States, it's "nicotine dependency through cigarette smoking." The Surgeon General has said that this addiction "causes more death and disease than all other addictions combined." Think about that for a moment. If you put together all the drugs that a person could possibly become addicted to including alcohol, prescription, or illegal drugs, they would not cause as many deaths or illnesses as cigarette smoking.

Most people know about the dangers of smoking and yet they continue to smoke. Why is this? They think it's cool. They see their friends smoking, or maybe they think they will have more friends if they smoke. I know one fifteen-year-old who started smoking because a guy she liked smoked. They hung out for about six weeks, then decided they didn't like each other as much as they thought. Well, by this time the girl had become addicted to nicotine, (the substance in cigarettes that makes them addictive). Later that same year when she met another guy she liked, he wouldn't have anything to do with her because she smoked. She finally quit, but it was very difficult for her.

Another reason people smoke is because of all the media and advertising done to persuade us to smoke. We see people smoking in movies, and we see ads that suggest that smoking is a cool thing to do. The tobacco industry spends in excess of $4 billion dollars ($4,000,000,000) for advertising. That's a lot of zero's! A lot of this advertising is directed at people who are your age. You may not realize that this is happening, because it is done very subtly. Did you know that Joe Camel, the cartoon character that RJ Reynolds uses in it's advertising, is as recognizable to a six-year-old as Mickey Mouse? That should make those of you with younger brothers and sisters very angry. It certainly makes me angry!

Unfortunately the advertising works. In order to maintain the current number of smokers, the tobacco industry has to convince 5,000 new people to smoke each day. This is to make up for those people that die and also those that quit smoking. Every day, appproximately four thousand people in the United States under the age of 19 become addicted to nicotine. In fact, 90% of people who smoke began smoking before the age of 19. One half of these smokers started smoking by the age of 14. The only way to prevent this is to not become addicted to nicotine. In short, don't pick up that first cigarette. If you remain a non-smoker through high school, chances are you will never smoke.

The percentages of cancer deaths due to cigarette smoking are staggering. Thirty percent of ALL cancer deaths are caused by smoking. Cigarette smoke kills almost five hundred thousand people (500,000) per year in the United States. That's more than thirteen hundred people per day! Worldwide the deaths per year are around three million. That means that every day, more than 8,000 people in the world die unnecessarily because they are addicted to a substance called nicotine.

Chances are someone you know has or will die from cigarette smoke. I do. My aunt, my grandmother, and my step-grandmother all died from smoking cigarettes. U.S. Vice President Al Gore's sister died from the effects of smoking. Recently Vice President Gore spoke about how this tragedy affected him and his family.

There is some good news however. Although cigarette smoking is increasing in other countries, tobacco use in the United States is declining. In fact, it may seem like "everyone" is smoking, but the truth is, young people are less likely to start smoking now then they were ten years ago. This is mainly due to the fact that we have become better educated about the effects that smoking has on our bodies. It is up to each of us to take responsibility for this epidemic. If you, through your actions, are able to keep from smoking and influence others not to smoke, then you have done your part in ending this horrible epidemic.

One thing you can do if you if you would like to help is participate in the Great American Smokeout on November 21, sponsored by the American Cancer Society. Encourage any smokers you know to quit smoking for the day. The Society also has information about how to quit smoking. It's a good resource if you would like to provide people you care about with the help they need to stop smoking so that you don't have to watch their health go up in smoke.


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