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Fifty years after the U.S. Surgeon General’s damning report on smoking, Ohio and the rest of the nation have made much progress in reducing this debilitating and sometimes deadly habit.
Despite incontrovertible evidence about smoking’s health risks, however, tobacco companies have fought these changes tooth and nail. Government action remains necessary, as companies that sell the addictive weed continue to find new ways to hook people on nicotine — especially the young.
In the mid-1960s, about half of the men in the country smoked, as did more than a third of the women. Throughout the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s smoking was considered glamorous, as anyone who watches Turner Classic Movies or the AMC series Mad Men knows.
Today, an estimated 18 percent of the country smokes, thanks largely to education and government action, including a 1965 law that banned cigarette advertising on television. These efforts, and others, have saved millions of lives.
In Ohio, five years after the voter-passed Smoke-Free Workplace Act of 2006 took effect, heart attack-related visits to hospital emergency departments fell 26 percent, the Ohio Department of Health reports.
Similar positive results occurred in New York State after it began its statewide comprehensive smoking ban.
Meanwhile, tobacco companies are marketing new products in candy flavors such as cherry, grape, and sour apple. Small cigarette-shaped cigars have become more popular than regular cigarettes in Cleveland public schools.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 percent of high school students — and 23 percent of adults — in Ohio smoke. The number of middle and high school students who use electronic cigarettes, which can deliver varying amounts of nicotine, just doubled in one year, according to the CDC’s National Youth Tobacco Survey.
Faced with the decline in smoking by adults, Philip Morris International Inc. recently said it will start making e-cigarettes. While the new products’ overall impact on health is uncertain, pregnant women are advised to avoid any nicotine delivery system to protect the developing fetus.
In Ohio, many of these nontraditional nicotine delivery systems are taxed less than half what regular cigarettes are charged, said Shelly Kiser, director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in the state.
Cigarettes are taxed at $1.25 a pack in Ohio — about midway among the states that range from $3.46 in Rhode Island to 17 cents in Missouri. E-cigarettes are only subject to a simple sales tax in Ohio.
Ohio should begin to incrementally raise the cigarette tax to further fund smoking cessation and prevention programs. It now spends about $5 million a year on anti-tobacco programs from state and federal sources, compared with the $1 million a day tobacco companies spend to market their products in the state.
Studies also show that the likelihood of smoking generally increases as annual incomes decrease, suggesting that Ohio should do more to target anti-smoking efforts at those with lower incomes.
Meanwhile, the federal government needs to be on the lookout for new versions of the now-banned Joe the Camel cartoon character that was used to entice youngsters to smoke.
Smoking remains the nation’s single most preventable cause of death, disease, and disability.
In an editorial on the tobacco report 50 years ago, The Blade urged government and medical professions to expand their studies of the issue, devote more funding to help smokers kick the habit, and find effective means to keep children from acquiring the tobacco habit.
Despite large decreases in the deadly tobacco habit, that’s still good advice today.