Smoking is coming back and its harmful effects need to be treated
When I first arrived on campus in September, many things surprised me: the beauty of the trees on the President’s Lawn, the intensity with which the early 2000s came back into fashion, and, unfortunately , the number of people I saw smoking cigarettes.
Cigarettes were first introduced to the United States in the early 19th century as an alternative to tobacco use in pipes, cigars, and chewing tobacco. They were used in World War I to keep soldiers calm and pain free, and the military even began to include cigarettes in soldiers’ rations during World War II. The first somewhat rudimentary studies of the negative effects of cigarette smoking began to expose the causal relationship with lung cancer in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
In January 1964, then Surgeon General Luther Terry held a press conference where he condemned smoking as the cause of lung cancer and possibly heart disease, citing research by scientists from the American Cancer Society E. Cuyler Hammond, Ph.D and Daniel Horn, Ph.D. Their study describing the causal relationship between smoking and lung cancer was the first to collect long-term data and include non-smokers in their sample of participants, which enhanced the credibility of the research.
Surgeon General Terry’s landmark statement in 2001 resulted in a substantial drop in the percentage of young cigarette smokers. The first e-cigarette device was invented in 2003 by pharmacist Hon Lik to help him quit his own smoking habit. Contrary to its original purpose, the growing popularity of vaping has shaped a new generation of nicotine-addicted smokers.
When e-cigarette companies realized that teens represented an untapped consumer base, they began to aggressively market their products to them. Unfortunately, these campaigns have successfully contributed to the increase in youth smoking. Some who became addicted to nicotine in their youth are now turning to cigarettes as an alternative and sometimes more accessible source of nicotine. Others fall prey to tobacco addiction in their young adulthood.
At Tufts, I’ve witnessed the repercussions of young smokers, who picked up the habit after the height of anti-smoking campaigns, showing up everywhere from cigarette butts littering the sidewalk to the second-hand smoke that too often lingers on Near Lawn.
“I think it’s mostly shocking to see someone our age smoking cigarettes, I’ve never seen any at home at all,” rookie Emma Dawson-Webb wrote in a message to The Daily. “It feels like such an ancient hazard and we have seen what it does to older generations with lung cancer or smoker’s cough. … Somehow, even though much of vaping does the same damage, it doesn’t scream as morally wrong or dangerous as smoking cigarettes.
Local convenience stores around campus sell cigarettes and will continue to do so until consumer demand is eradicated or our community takes a strong stand against tobacco and its known harms.
Decades of data collected from cigarette smokers prove the many health consequences of smoking. Although lung cancer is most commonly associated with smoking, other forms of cancer, such as mouth and throat, liver, kidney, and pancreas, have also been linked to smoking. Smoking increases the risk of conditions such as chest pain, heart attack, heart failure and arrhythmia, and it has worsened COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses.
Additionally, tobacco products contain over 7,000 toxic chemicals and are the most polluted item on the planet. They pollute our environment from oceans to city sidewalks, according to the World Health Organization. Other victims of the tobacco epidemic include those who suffer health complications from exposure to second-hand smoke. Often the children or relatives of cigarette smokers are at high risk for heart disease, lung cancer, SIDS, asthma and pneumonia.
Fortunately, the growing base of public knowledge about the harmful consequences of smoking has allowed campaigns such as The Truth to push the anti-smoking agenda further. Although 43% of adults in the United States smoked regularly in 1965, that number has dropped to 14% today. This means that while the issue seems prevalent to me from what I witnessed during my time on campus, we are moving in a positive direction nationally.
But there is still work to be done. Vaping, although marketed as harmless compared to traditional cigarettes, has facilitated the resurgence of nicotine addiction among young adults. Unlike the sunglasses, cargo pants and platform sandals of the year 2000, the return of smoking has tangible harmful effects. Given the obvious environmental and health hazards, we as a community must work together to reduce the prevalence of smoking in Tufts.