For Immediate Release
June 21, 2010

KDHE Office of Communications
communications@kdheks.gov, 785-296-0461

The Times are A-Changing for Tobacco

An Op-Ed Column by Jason Eberhart-Phillips, MD
Kansas State Health Officer

One of the biggest lies told to sell tobacco is the misleading use of descriptions such as “light,” “mild” or “low-tar” in the marketing and packaging of cigarettes.

More than half of the people who smoke so-called “light” brands believe these cigarettes are less harmful than the regular, full-flavored varieties.

In reality, there is no difference in the ways these cigarettes ruin your health. There is nothing “light” or “mild” about the cancer, heart disease or strokes that sooner or later catch up with the people who smoke these cigarettes, in spite of their healthy-sounding names.

For that reason, on Tuesday, June 22, the use of such terms to sell cigarettes will be banned throughout the United States.

The new rule takes effect on the anniversary of the date last year that the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took over regulation of tobacco products. It also comes less than 10 days before the ban on smoking in nearly every indoor public place takes effect in Kansas.

When it comes to tobacco, the times they are most definitely a-changing.

In Kansas, we know that the arrival of the Clean Indoor Air Act on July 1 will immediately reduce the risk of heart attacks for non-smokers in Kansas communities that have so far lacked local smoke-free protections. The new law will also cut the state’s health care costs, and it will send young people a powerful message that smoking isn’t a normal adult behavior.

Beyond this, there is strong evidence that the new statewide ban will not harm businesses, that good health and good profitability for savvy business owners can go hand-in-hand.

The new FDA prohibition on “light” cigarettes and other deceptive language comes as part of a larger package of regulations, rules that build on actions in 2009 that banned the sale of flavored cigarettes and the addition of tobacco to candy or gum.

The new regulations, taking effect on June 22, include a nationwide ban on tobacco sponsorship of cultural and sporting events, an end to handouts of free tobacco samples and giveaways of non-tobacco products, and prohibitions on the sale of cigarettes in packs fewer than 20 – the so-called “kiddie packs” that make cigarettes cheaper and more appealing to children.

At the same time, the FDA will now require new and larger warning labels on smokeless tobacco products. A similar rule for cigarettes will take effect by the end of 2011, in which new, graphic health-warning labels will cover at least 50 percent of the front and back of each cigarette pack sold in the United States.

It is hoped that each new regulation will make it harder for Big Tobacco to attract new customers, and more difficult to keep their grip on those who continue to smoke.

Despite decades of anti-tobacco advocacy, 1,000 children still become addicted to tobacco in America every day. More than 400,000 American adults die each year from tobacco-related causes, and another 8.6 million develop serious illnesses due to cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Smoking kills more people in America than HIV/AIDS, alcohol use, cocaine use, heroin use, homicides, suicides, fires and motor vehicle crashes combined.

But this terrible chapter in our nation’s health may soon be reaching the end.

Cigarette consumption is falling rapidly throughout the United States, to about half of what it was in 1980. In recent years, fewer teens have become regular smokers than at any time in decades. And former smokers who have quit for good now outnumber current smokers.

The cultural aberration that led a large segment of the American public into a deadly addiction during most of the 20th century does not have to continue into the 21st century. Collectively we can, and we will defeat the insidious hold tobacco has on our nation’s future.

If you are struggling to defeat tobacco in your own life, there is no day like today to kick tobacco out of your life once and for all. If you need free, confidential, personalized help, call the Kansas Tobacco Quitline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

Dr. Eberhart-Phillips is the Kansas State Health Officer and Director of Health in the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. He can be reached at jeberhart-phillips@kdheks.gov. Previous columns are now available online at Dr. Jason’s Blog, www.kdheks.gov/blogs/dr_jasons_blogs.htm