Tobacco’s Defenders Launch Their Hot-Air Balloons
IN THE 1940’s, London was a city under siege. German fighter planes and flying bombs rained down terror and destruction. But if the situation hadn’t been so dire, the inhabitants might have been amused by a bizarre sight.
Tethered by long cables, thousands of large balloons floated overhead. Their purpose was to discourage low-level air raids and hopefully snag a few flying bombs in midair. The balloon barrage, ingenious as it was, met with minimal success.
Cigarette companies have likewise found themselves under siege. The sprawling tobacco empires, once impregnable bastions of political and economic might, are being attacked at every turn.
The medical community churns out page after page of incriminating studies. Crusading health officials maneuver for advantage. Outraged parents charge that their children are being victimized. Determined legislators have chased cigarette smoke out of office buildings, restaurants, military installations, and airplanes. In many countries, tobacco advertisements have been banned from television and radio. In the United States, entire states are suing for millions in health-care costs. Even lawyers are joining the fight.
So in an attempt to fend off their attackers, the tobacco companies have launched some defensive balloons of their own. However, they appear to be filled with a lot of hot air.
The U.S. public has, this past year, had a front-row seat as indignant legislators and government health officials mounted a vigorous offensive against the tobacco industry. In hearings before a U.S. congressional panel in April 1994, tobacco executives of seven large American companies were confronted with the incriminating statistics: more than 400,000 Americans dead each year and millions more sick, dying, and addicted.
What did they have to say for themselves? The embattled executives offered some interesting statements in their defense: “Smoking . . . has yet to be proven to have a causal role in the development of diseases,” asserted a Tobacco Institute spokesman. What is more, the smoking habit was portrayed as being as harmless as any other enjoyable activity, such as eating sweets or drinking coffee. “The presence of nicotine does not make cigarettes a drug, or smoking an addiction,” said one tobacco company chief executive officer. “The premise that nicotine in cigarettes is addictive at any level is incorrect,” asserted a tobacco company scientist.
If cigarettes are not addictive, countered the committee, why have tobacco companies tried to manipulate the nicotine levels in their products? “Taste,” explained another tobacco company executive. Is there nothing worse than a tasteless cigarette? When shown stacks of research from his own company’s files suggesting nicotine’s addictiveness, he clung to his story.
Apparently, he and others will cling to that opinion no matter how much the cemeteries fill up with tobacco victims. Early in 1993, Dr. Lonnie Bristow, chairman of the American Medical Association Board of Trustees issued an interesting challenge. The Journal of the American Medical Association reports: “He invited executives of the major US tobacco companies to walk with him through hospital wards to see one of the results of smoking—lung cancer patients and other pulmonary cripples. There were no takers.”
The tobacco industry boasts that it provides good jobs in a world economy of burgeoning unemployment. In Argentina, for example, one million jobs are created by the industry, with four million more jobs indirectly related. Massive tax revenues have earned tobacco companies the good graces of many governments.
One tobacco concern has specifically favored minority groups with generous donations—a seeming manifestation of civic-mindedness. Internal company documents, however, revealed the true motive of this “constituency development budget”—to create goodwill among potential voters.
This same tobacco company has also made friends among the arts with large contributions to museums, schools, dance academies, and music institutions. Officials of art organizations brace themselves to accept the badly needed tobacco money. Recently, members of the art community of New York City faced an awkward dilemma as this same tobacco company called on them to lend their voice to lobbying efforts against antismoking legislation.
And, of course, the wealthy tobacco giants are not timid about scattering money around to politicians, who can use their influence against any proposals unfriendly to tobacco interests. Government officials in high places have championed the cause of the tobacco companies. Some have financial ties to the industry or feel pressure to repay them for the generous campaign support from tobacco money.
One U.S. congressman reportedly received over $21,000 in donations from cigarette companies and subsequently cast his vote against a number of antitobacco issues.
A former well-paid tobacco lobbyist, at one time a state senator and a heavy smoker, recently discovered that he has throat, lung, and liver cancer. Now he has keen regrets and laments that “lying there with something you caused yourself” makes a person feel like a fool.
With all the power that advertising dollars can buy, the tobacco giants are vigorously attacking the opposition. One advertisement waves the freedom flag, solemnly warning, “Today It’s Cigarettes. Tomorrow?” It implies that caffeine, alcohol, and hamburgers will be the next victims of supposedly fanatic prohibitionists.
Newspaper advertisements have sought to discredit a widely quoted U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study that classified passive smoke as carcinogenic. The tobacco industry announced plans to do legal battle. A television program accused one company of toying with nicotine levels to encourage addiction. The network airing the show was promptly presented with a $10 billion lawsuit.
The tobacco companies have battled mightily, but the air is becoming still thicker with accusations. Some 50,000 studies have been conducted during the last four decades, resulting in an ever-growing mountain of evidence on the hazards of tobacco use.
How have the cigarette companies attempted to dodge the charges thrown at them? They have stubbornly held to one supposed fact: Smokers do quit. Thus, they say, nicotine is not addictive. Statistics, however, show otherwise. True, 40 million Americans have quit. But 50 million more still smoke, and 70 percent of these say they want to quit. Of the 17 million who attempt to quit each year, 90 percent fail within a year.
After lung cancer surgery, nearly 50 percent of U.S. smokers return to the habit. Of smokers who have had heart attacks, 38 percent light up even before leaving the hospital. Forty percent of smokers who have a cancerous larynx removed will try to smoke again.
Of the millions of teenage smokers in the United States, three fourths say they have made at least one serious attempt to quit but have failed. Statistics also show that for many youths, smoking tobacco is a stepping-stone to harder drugs. Adolescent smokers are more than 50 times as likely to use cocaine as are nonsmokers. A 13-year-old smoker agrees. “There’s no doubt in my mind that cigarettes are a gateway drug,” she wrote. “Almost everyone I know, except for three people, started smoking before doing drugs.”
What about low-tar cigarettes? Studies show that they may, in fact, be more dangerous—for two reasons: One, the smoker often inhales more deeply to extract the nicotine his system craves, exposing more lung tissue to the toxic effects of the smoke; two, the misconception that he is smoking a “healthier” cigarette may keep him from making the effort to quit altogether.
More than 2,000 studies have been done on nicotine alone. They reveal that nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to man, and one of the most harmful. Nicotine accelerates the heart rate and constricts blood vessels. It is absorbed into the bloodstream in seven seconds—even faster than an injection directly into a vein. It conditions the brain to want more, a craving that some say is twice as addictive as heroin.
Are the tobacco companies, despite their denials, aware of the addictive properties of nicotine? Indications are that they have known for a long time. For instance, a 1983 report shows that one tobacco company’s researcher noted that laboratory rats exhibited classic symptoms of addiction, regularly self-administering doses of nicotine by hitting levers. Reportedly, the study was quickly suppressed by the industry and has come to light only recently.
The tobacco giants have not sat idly by while cannons fire salvos from all directions. The Council for Tobacco Research in New York City conducts what The Wall Street Journal calls “the longest-running misinformation campaign in U.S. business history.”
Under the banner of conducting independent research, the council has invested millions of dollars in combating assailants. It all started in 1953 when Dr. Ernst Wynder of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center found that tobacco tars painted on the backs of mice caused tumors. The industry established the council to neutralize the clear evidence gathering against their product, by countering with scientific evidence of their own.
How could council scientists, though, produce results so contrary to the findings of the rest of the research community? Recently released documents reveal an elaborate web of intrigue. Many council researchers, shackled by written contracts and controlled by squads of sharp-eyed lawyers, found that the growing health fears were well-founded. But when faced with the facts, the council, according to The Wall Street Journal, “sometimes disregarded, or even cut off, studies of its own that implicated smoking as a health hazard.”
Behind the walls of secrecy, the search for a safer cigarette continued for years. To do so publicly would have been a tacit admission that smoking was indeed hazardous to health. By the end of the 1970’s, a senior lawyer for a tobacco company recommended that efforts to produce a “safe” cigarette be abandoned as futile and that all related documents be stowed away.
Two things became clear from the years of experimenting: Nicotine is indeed addictive, and cigarette smoking does kill. Though vehemently denying these facts publicly, tobacco companies show by their actions that they know the facts all too well.
Charging deliberate manipulation, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner David Kessler said: “Some of today’s cigarettes may, in fact, qualify as high-technology nicotine delivery systems that deliver nicotine in precisely calculated quantities . . . sufficient to create and to sustain addiction.”
Kessler revealed that tobacco companies own a number of patents proving their intent. One is for a genetically altered strain of tobacco with the highest nicotine yield known. Another process treats filters and papers with nicotine for an additional boost. Yet another administers more nicotine in the smoker’s first puffs than in the last. Additionally, industry documents show that ammonia compounds are added to cigarettes to free more nicotine from the tobacco. “Nearly twice the usual amount inhaled got into a smoker’s bloodstream,” says a New York Times report. The FDA has proclaimed that nicotine is an addictive drug and aims to regulate cigarettes more tightly.
Governments are dependent in their own way on cigarettes. The U.S. government, for instance, collects $12 billion a year in state and federal taxes on tobacco products. The federal Office of Technology Assessment, however, calculates a $68 billion a year price tag for smoking, based on health-care costs and lost productivity.
Claims of economic rewards and plentiful jobs, benevolent support of the arts, fierce denials of health risks—indeed, the tobacco industry has sent up some peculiar-looking balloons in self-defense. Whether they prove to be more effective than the balloon barrage over London or not remains to be seen.
But it is evident that the giant companies can no longer hide their true nature. They have made millions, and they have killed millions, but they seem unaffected that the bottom line is a terrible toll in human lives.
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They appear to be filled with a lot of hot air
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A government study implicates passive smoke as carcinogenic
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Nicotine is one of the most addicting substances known
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They have made millions; they have killed millions
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50,000 Studies—What Have They Found?
Here is a small sampling of the health concerns raised by researchers in connection with tobacco use:
LUNG CANCER: Smokers make up 87 percent of lung-cancer deaths.
HEART DISEASE: Smokers have a 70 percent greater risk of cardiovascular disease.
BREAST CANCER: Women who smoke 40 or more cigarettes daily have a 74 percent greater chance of dying from breast cancer.
HEARING IMPAIRMENT: Infants of smoking mothers have greater difficulty processing sound.
DIABETIC HAZARDS: Diabetics who smoke or chew tobacco are at higher risk for kidney damage and have more rapidly progressing retinopathy (a disorder of the retina).
COLON CANCER: Two studies involving more than 150,000 people show a clear link between smoking and colon cancer.
ASTHMA: Secondhand smoke can worsen asthma in youngsters.
PREDISPOSITION TO SMOKE: Daughters of women who smoked during pregnancy are four times more likely to smoke.
LEUKEMIA: Smoking appears to cause myeloid leukemia.
EXERCISE INJURIES: According to a U.S. Army study, smokers are more likely to suffer injuries while exercising.
MEMORY: High doses of nicotine may take a toll on mental dexterity while a person is performing complex tasks.
DEPRESSION: Psychiatrists are investigating evidence of a link between smoking and major depression as well as schizophrenia.
SUICIDE: A study of nurses showed that suicide was twice as likely among nurses who smoked.
Other dangers to add to the list: Cancer of the mouth, larynx, throat, esophagus, pancreas, stomach, small intestine, bladder, kidney, and cervix; stroke, heart attack, chronic lung disease, circulatory disease, peptic ulcers, diabetes, infertility, low birth weight, osteoporosis, and ear infections. Fire hazards may be added as well, as smoking is the chief cause of home, hotel, and hospital fires.
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Smokeless Tobacco–A Dangerous Substitute
The leader in the $1.1 billion snuff industry cagily reels in its small fry with flavored bait. It has flavored brands that are popular. The “little tobacco buzz” they deliver satisfies but not for long. A former vice chairman of this tobacco company said: “A lot of people may start on the more flavored products, but ultimately, they’ll come to [the strongest brand].” It is advertised as, “A Strong Chew for Strong Men” and, “It Satisfies.”
The Wall Street Journal, which reported on this strategy of the company, quoted its denial that “it doctors levels of nicotine.” The Journal also stated that two former tobacco chemists of the company, speaking on the topic for the first time, said that “while the company doesn’t manipulate nicotine levels, it does manipulate the amount of nicotine that users absorb.” They also say that the company adds chemicals to boost the alkalinity of its snuff. The more alkaline the snuff is, “the more nicotine is released.” The Journal adds this clarification concerning snuff and chewing tobacco: “Snuff, which sometimes is confused with chewing tobacco, is shredded tobacco that users suck on, but don’t chew. Users take a pinch, or ‘dip,’ and place it between the cheek and gum, shifting it about with their tongues and spitting occasionally.”
Flavored brands made for beginners free only from 7 to 22 percent of their nicotine for absorption into the bloodstream. The strongest brand can make new users gag. It is in a finely chopped form for “real” men. Seventy-nine percent of its nicotine is “free,” available for immediate absorption into the bloodstream. In the United States, users begin dipping on the average at the age of nine. And what nine-year-old will long resist moving up to stronger brands and joining the “real” men?
The resulting dose of nicotine is actually more powerful than that from a cigarette. Users are reportedly 4 times more likely to develop mouth cancer, and their risk of developing throat cancer is 50 times greater than for nonusers.
Public outcry in the United States temporarily flared up when a lawsuit was brought against a tobacco company by the mother of a former high school track star who died from mouth cancer. He got a free can of snuff at a rodeo at age 12 and became a four-can-a-week user. After he underwent a number of painful surgeries that carved up his tongue, jaw, and neck, his doctors gave up. The young man died at 19 years of age.
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How to Become a Quitter
Millions of people have successfully broken their nicotine addiction. If you are a smoker, even a longtime one, you too can shed this harmful habit. A few tips that may help:
• Know beforehand what to expect. The withdrawal symptoms may include anxiety, irritability, dizziness, headaches, sleeplessness, stomach upsets, hunger, cravings, poor concentration, and tremors. Not a pleasant prospect, to be sure, but the most intense symptoms last only a few days and gradually fade as the body becomes free of nicotine.
• Now the mental battle begins in earnest. Not only did your body crave nicotine but your mind was conditioned by behaviors associated with smoking. Analyze your routine to see when you automatically reached for a cigarette, and alter that pattern. For example, if you always smoked right after a meal, determine to get up right away and take a walk or wash the dishes.
• When an intense craving strikes, perhaps because of a stressful moment, remember that the impulse will usually pass within five minutes. Be prepared to occupy your mind by writing a letter, exercising, or eating a healthy snack. Prayer is a powerful help toward self-control.
• If you are discouraged from failed attempts to quit, take heart. The important thing is to keep trying.
• If the prospect of gaining weight hinders you, keep in mind that the benefits of giving up cigarettes far outweigh the dangers of a few extra pounds. It may help to have fruit or vegetables handy. And drink plenty of water.
• To quit smoking is one thing. To stay off tobacco is quite another. Set time goals for being smoke free—one day, one week, three months, forever.
Jesus said: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31) To love your neighbor, stop smoking. To love yourself, stop smoking.—See also “Smoking—The Christian View,” in Awake!, July 8, 1989, pages 13-15.