Controlling Tobacco-Industry 'Child Abuse'

To keep the money rolling in, the tobacco industry stoops to the systematic seduction of children, especially disadvantaged children. This is no exaggeration--and it is no small vice at stake.

The churches have borne little witness against the tobacco industry so far. The signs that this may be changing should be welcome, for the children lured into smoking by the tobacco pushers face a grim prospect: They are likely to die young.

Nicotine addiction is lethal. The average male smoker in the United States, for example, loses eight years of life expectancy. Losing older customers because of premature death jacks up the pressure on the marketing side of the tobacco enterprise. Counting smokers who quit as well as those who die, the industry needs more than two million new smokers a year just to maintain current sales levels.

Attention must focus on the young. Only 10 percent of new smokers begin after the age of 20. The rest are in their teens or are even younger. This means that some 6,000 children and teen-agers have to begin smoking each day in order for the tobacco industry in the United States to replace the customers it loses.

One-fourth of all new smokers are 12 years old or under. So every day the tobacco industry must recruit some 1,500 preteen-aged children to smoking. The industry knows this and shapes its advertising accordingly. But as Rep. Henry Waxman of California has remarked, advertising cigarettes is "the moral equivalent of a national campaign to 'Drive Drunk--Just for the Fun of It.'"

The surgeon general's recently released report, Smoking and Health in the Americas, affords new opportunity to confront the facts about the health effects of smoking. Tobacco use, said Surgeon General Antonia Novello, is "now easily designated the single most important risk to human health in the United States."

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Sojourners Magazine July 1992
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