Thursday, August 16, 2012

Smoking Cessation Down Under

It's not that often that one can say this, but here goes: The Australians have it right, at least regarding a ruling by their High Court that cigarettes be sold in plain packages. The law was passed by Parliament last year and requires cigarettes no longer be peddled in bright and cheerful, logo-infested packs. Instead, they're to be marketed in drab and dark packaging with graphic images of cancerous lungs and the comeuppance of other smoking-related diseases.

The major tobacco companies, up in arms, naturally enough challenged the new law, arguing that the plain packaging was unconstitutional, since it amounted "to an acquisition of intellectual property without adequate compensation," according to the Washington Post.  Nuts to you, said the High Court, perhaps having secretly read various reports issued by health authorities in Europe and the US that claim that cigarettes--and not the oft-maligned marijuana--are, along with alcohol, the real gateway drug.

The studies argue that drug consumption among the very young is often peer-related and that the use of cigarettes provides such users with various incentives. The youth get to act illegally by purchasing cigarettes while underage, or stealing them from parents. This is a cheap thrill--breaking the law with no or minimal consequences--but it prepares them for the more seriously illegal act of later buying drugs. Since consuming tobacco products is also illegal for young people, the adventure surrounding illegal acquisition is compounded by the act of using. Again, this is good preparation for graduating to more serious drugs. 

That, though heavily taxed, cigarettes remain cheap is another impetus. Even at five or more dollars a pack, they are within reach of most kids who can recoup their initial investments by going Asian and selling their surplus butts individually to their friends.  Sound like Dealing 101 to you? Hmmm.

Cigarettes are also highly branded, which kids respond to with gusto, just as they do branding in shoes, clothes, sunglasses and hair gel. Removing the Camel, or the bright red and white motif from a pack of Marlboros or Winstons, is likely to make the product less attractive. Big Tobacco, having spent billions in creating and marketing their brands in the first place, is fully aware of this.

According to NIDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, "the experience of smoking can teach youngsters to use a psychoactive drug to influence mood and alertness, as nicotine does, and then reinforce that behavior. Smoking cigarettes prepares young people for the relevant mode of ingestion for one of the next drugs in the sequence namely marijuana."  NIDA points out that drawing a foreign substance into the lungs is not a normal behavior for humans or other animals - it is a behavior which "has to be learned and rewarded enough to overcome the aversive experiences which usually result."

Additionally, says the 1994 Surgeon General's report, 12- to 17-year-olds who reported having smoked in the past 30 days were three times more likely to use alcohol, eight times more likely to smoke marijuana, and 22 times more likely to use cocaine, within those past 30 days than those 12- to 17-year-olds who had not smoked during that time.

Still not persuaded? Here's a handy chart put out by the National Center for Health Statistics relating to problem behavior among youth.  The first percentage figure is for kids who don't smoke. The second figure is for kids who do.

You can put it on your refrigerator door.

Alcohol use in past month                  23%                /                       74%

Five or more drinks in a row                9.5%             /                       50%

Marijuana use in past month                1.5%              /                       50%

Carried a weapon                                  9.5%              /                       25.6%

Physical fight in past year                  29%                /                       55%

Smokeless tobacco use

  in past month (boys)                          4%                 /                   28%                                        

So yeah. Go Aussies!

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