Editorial - Tobacco industry still thriving - at young people's expenseThe war against tobacco companies is all but over, right? The tobacco industry, under siege from statewide smoking bans, billion-dollar lawsuits, advertising bans, warning labels, anti-smoking campaigns and shifting public opinion, is in its last dying gasps, right?
The war against tobacco companies is all but over, right?
The tobacco industry, under siege from statewide smoking bans, billion-dollar lawsuits, advertising bans, warning labels, anti-smoking campaigns and shifting public opinion, is in its last dying gasps, right?
Don’t put that in your pipe and smoke it.
The tobacco industry is continuing to re-invent itself and is coming up with more creative – and insidious – ways to addict more users.
Representatives of ClearWay Minnesota, an independent, non-profit organization that was funded through the state’s 1998 settlement with the tobacco companies, visited the Echo Press last Wednesday. ClearWay recently began a new campaign, “Unfiltered: A Revealing Look at Today’s Tobacco Industry,” that contains sobering news: The tobacco industry hasn’t gone away. It’s hard at work luring new customers – many of them young people younger than 18 – and keeping those who are already using tobacco hooked.
Tobacco companies are still a hugely powerful industry, one of the most lucrative in the world. It spends $12.8 billion a year to market its products nationwide and nearly $200 million was spent in Minnesota alone, according to ClearWay.
The consequences are deadly: 634,000 Minnesotans still smoke and the state loses 5,500 lives and $2 billion in health care costs annually because of tobacco-related illnesses, ClearWay notes.
Smoking is still a hard habit to kick. The national smoking rate hasn’t declined since 2004. In Minnesota, 17 percent of the population, or 634,000 adults, still smoke. The statistics for young people are especially troubling: 28.4 percent of those between the ages of 18 to 24 are tobacco users and smokeless tobacco-use rates among youth are up nationwide. About 85,000 middle and high school students in the state smoke.
The tobacco industry is drawing in young smokers with an array of new products:
•Little cigars. They look, feel and smoke like cigarettes with one exception – they have tobacco in the rolling paper, which allows them to be called cigars and void cigarette taxes and other regulations. They appeal to youth because at $2 a pack, they’re cheaper than regular cigarettes and they come in a variety of “youth friendly” candy flavors like grape, strawberry and peach. Many stores even sell them right on the counter next to candy products.
•Sticks, orbs and strips. These products – made of finely milled tobacco – dissolve when placed in the mouth, releasing significant amounts of nicotine. Once again, the products are packaged and designed to appeal to youth. The orbs look like a small breath mint or Tic Tac; the sticks look like a toothpick and the strips look like a breath-freshening strip. Since these products are not currently defined under state statutes, they’re not taxed or regulated as tobacco products.
•Snus. Smokeless and spitless, these small lightweight pouches are filled with tobacco and are placed between the gum and lip where nicotine can be quickly absorbed. They’re marketed as “pleasure for whenever,” suggesting that the product can be discreetly used where other tobacco products can’t.
So what can be done to snuff out this problem? ClearWay is proposing more aggressive legislation to close loopholes that tobacco companies are using to peddle their products to children. It’s called the “Tobacco Modernization and Compliance Act of 2010.” The act would classify “little cigars” as what they really are – cigarettes. This would subject the cigars to the existing regulations that apply to cigarettes, such as tax stamping.
The act would also ensure that new tobacco products are covered under existing regulations, such as not allowing them to be sold on the counter next to candy and gum. It would prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to youth.
Furthermore, the act would fund a state feasibility study to determine the best way to collect taxes and fees on all tobacco products, which would increase collections and reduce evasions.
The act, in our view, is a commonsense solution to a preventable health problem that continues to drive up healthcare costs and take countless lives every day.
Citizens should be outraged by the tobacco industry’s latest tactics to increase their profits at the expense of young people’s health. They should be deeply concerned that Minnesota’s laws have not kept up with the rapidly changing tobacco products market. They should support the Tobbaco Modernization and Compliance Act.
For more information about the tobacco industry’s continued influence, visit the website www.unfilteredmn.org.
Echo Press editorials are the position of the newspaper’s editorial board, which includes Jody Hanson, publisher; Al Edenloff, editor; and news reporter Celeste Beam.