FISTICUFFS – The butt stops here

Fisticuffs is a weekly point/counter-point column

MARK MCDONALD
General Manager

In recent years, the issue of underage teens using tobacco has grown into a full-fledged war against lobbyists, “heartless” corporations, and youth-oriented advertising in order to protect the wellness of adolescents. With the growth of this well-meaning movement, many Americans have jumped on the bandwagon and continued to clamor for results.

In an effort to curb the marketing of tobacco to minors, the Obama administration enacted a law banning the production, distribution, and sale of flavored cigarettes. Backing up the decision is research showing that 17-year-olds were more than three times as likely to smoke flavored cigarettes than those over the age of 25, with a great deal of those surveyed believing that the flavored cigarettes were safer. With that kind of data, it may appear that the administration made a sound decision.

However, this law is another example of the kind of second-class treatment that many citizens who smoke feel they have been receiving. Tobacco is legal and has been since this country was founded, and banning flavored cigarettes is an infringement upon the rights of those who choose to smoke any form of tobacco. It is each individual citizen’s right to choose whether or not they smoke cigarettes, and completely wrong of the government to try and eliminate any part of that option.

It’s true that flavored cigarettes are much more likely to be consumed by teens and other young people, and the way they are presented makes them seem like a safer alternative to standard cigarettes. The main issue that this law should be attacking is the way flavored cigarettes are marketed, not the sale of the item.

All cigarettes are bad for a person’s health; flavored cigarettes, menthol cigarettes, and “light” cigarettes are just as bad for people as standard cigarettes. By giving them these labels, tobacco companies make it seem like that is not the case. If the government is worried about minors buying these products because they think it is safer, then they need to put restrictions on what the packaging can say, whether the word “light” can be used, and maybe even a larger warning on the front of the box.

Simply removing flavored cigarettes from the market does not police the tobacco industry; it just denies people who do enjoy that product from being able to enjoy their product of choice. Limiting consumer choices just means that people who want to smoke will have to settle for standard cigarettes instead of what they actually want.

If the government is going to put a ban on flavored cigarettes because they target minors, then why not flavored vodka or other alcoholic drinks? Cirrhosis of the liver can be just as bad as lung disease, but similar sanctions have yet to be imposed upon the alcohol industry. Drinks like “appletinis” are not targeting people who have been drinking for 20 years, but those who are just getting ready to start.

The reason that the tobacco industry is facing such harsh legislation and restrictions is that the current trend is to hop on the “Tobacco is Wacko” bandwagon. While there is nothing wrong with trying to protect the health and well being of minors and indeed all citizens of the United States, there is something inherently wrong in trying to limit people’s choices. Just like parents have to let kids grow up and make their own mistakes, the government needs to let people make their own decisions regarding their health and whether or not they wish to smoke cigarettes or other tobacco products.

There is no doubt that careful legislation regarding the way tobacco is marketed towards minors should be investigated, but getting rid of flavored cigarettes is just a step too far. This country was built on the principle of freedom, and people should be free to smoke whatever type of cigarettes they wish even if they do taste like Kauai Kolada.

JUSTIN THRIFT
Editorial Page Editor

Three months ago, President Obama signed a piece of legislation into law that permitted the Food and Drug Administration to monitor and regulate tobacco products more heavily. One of the President’s biggest moves thus far, it instantly instilled fear into the offices of tobacco companies doing business in American markets.

Last week, the legislation made its first impression when Federal health officials announced a nationwide ban on all flavored cigarette products. In more ways than one, this move is a great step forward in the war against these tobacco companies and the manipulative techniques they employ in order to gather lifelong customers.

The ban, intended to reduce the marketing of cigarettes to teenagers, will dramatically reduce the amount of youth smoking. Research suggests that every day thousands of teenagers light up a cigarette for the first time, many of whom will become life-long dependents on the deadly products.

Tobacco companies do everything in their power to advertise a harmless and stylish image for their product, but in the end there can be no denying their true identity as cancer sticks.
By selling flavored cigarettes in popular varieties like strawberry and vanilla, young people are naturally more susceptible to the lure that cigarette smoking can have. Flavored cigarettes paint a fresher, more delectable image in first-time smokers’ minds and only intensify the curiosity factor involved.

To find validity in this argument, one needs only to walk around the St. John’s campus where cigarette smoke is present outside every building and down every path, throughout the day. Clove cigarettes, also known as Kretek, are a popular choice for many young smokers. These cigarettes consist of normal tobacco, clove plant, and a flavored sauce that gives the cigarette a unique taste and delivers stronger sensation. What many smokers aren’t aware of is that clove cigarettes contain more tar and nicotine than a standard cigarette.

Along with flavored cigarettes, the government’s recent regulation of tobacco also pertains to products that advertise themselves as “light” or “mild.” These labels often give the cigarettes in the box a less harmful connotation. Unfortunately, all cigarettes are harmful regardless of their nicotine level.
Brands like “Marlboro Lights” seek to manipulate consumers into buying a cigarette that won’t cause their lungs as much distress.

The very word “light” itself provokes a subconscious justification for smoking this cigarette over, say, Marlboro Reds. Tar, toxic chemicals, nicotine, and smoke were not intended to be ingested by the human body, regardless of the amounts involved.

While it may be relevant to argue the importance of consumer freedom, signing up for a harmful addiction that will lead to a life of significant health loss, and even death, is never a smart decision. Giving young people the temptation to become involved in such a harmful addiction would not only be irresponsible for the government, but negligent in protecting its people. If tobacco companies had their way, every American would be life-long smokers.

Let’s face reality, cigarette smoking is a deadly addiction afflicting millions of Americans today. Most of these Americans, if they could, would quit instantly. It is a poisonous habit that leads to a number of lethal diseases, killing immense amounts of people around the globe every single day. These people die because they were addicted to smoking, and it all started with that initial temptation that they couldn’t resist.

The newest FDA ban helps to decrease that temptation. We’re witnessing an extremely positive measure against the tobacco industry, one that will prove to be effective in lowering the percentage of Americans addicted to smoking cigarettes. By continuing to restrict the tobacco industry and make cigarettes less attractive to teens, we move to
wards a healthier, better future.