Originally Published: July 7, 2002 10:10 a.m.
Tobacco kills more than twice as many Americans as all other causes of preventable death combined – more than 440,000 in a year.
More than 90 percent of tobacco users start using before they are 18. The active drug in tobacco, nicotine, is the most addicting drug in the world, more addictive than even cocaine and heroin.
Arizona needs a comprehensive, tobacco use prevention program for youngsters. If you never start, you never need to quit. Tobacco is a gateway drug. The decision to try easily available tobacco as an under age user opens the door to other risky behaviors including drugs, alcohol and sex. Tobacco education teaches children about responsible choices and healthy lifestyles.
Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is a proven killer of babies causing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and a severe and deadly health threat to non-smoking adults and children. ETS contains more than 4,000 chemicals such as acetone, carbon monoxide and arsenic. More than 40 are carcinogens. In two hours in a bar that allows smoking, a non-smoker inhales the equivalent of one pack of cigarettes. Only about 17 percent of Arizona's citizens are addicted to cigarettes, but the law allows them to inflict their addiction on the remaining 83 percent of us in many restaurants, clubs and various public locations.
Tobacco, whether smoked or chewed, will kill more than 50 percent of those who use it. It makes no difference if they are nice people, mothers or fathers, give to charities, and are active supporters of their communities. Tobacco addicts are all of these and more. We cannot allow them to harm the huge unaddicted majority. We should not censure them but rather encourage them and help them to quit. Treating tobacco-caused illnesses is expensive; it costs each of us $256 a year.
The highly successful state tobacco education, prevention and cessation program covers these, and many other issues centering on tobacco use. The Legislature would have tobacco tax money go only toward health care, a situation to the liking of the tobacco companies because it does not affect the amount of tobacco people buy. Prevention education is more fiscally and morally responsible and has proven so effective here in Arizona that it is the benchmark for programs nationally.
Ultimately, the problem is not tobacco vs. anti-tobacco, as tobacco companies would have us believe, but one of good health for all.
(Eric Lucas is a health educator for the Yavapai County Health Department.)