Anti-tobacco effort still has long journey ahead
YOU'VE come a long way, baby." That's how Virginia Slims, the cigarette slim enough for a small purse, was marketed to females -- pregnant and otherwise -- a generation ago.
Well, we have come a long way as a society in recognizing how deadly cigarettes are. On Nov. 16, Hawaii will join 13 other states in implementing a single statewide comprehensive smoking ban that will affect virtually all public places, restaurants, bars and work places.
And it's about time. Twenty years ago, the U.S. surgeon general determined that secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer in nonsmokers. The latest report by the surgeon general, issued in June, found that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke and that the only way of fully protecting nonsmokers from secondhand smoke is to eliminate indoor smoking. Separating smokers from nonsmokers and improved ventilation cannot eliminate risks to nonsmokers.
The American Lung Association of Hawaii applauds Gov. Linda Lingle's decision not to veto Hawaii's comprehensive anti-smoking legislation and hopes she eventually signs it rather than simply allowing it to become law without her signature. There should be no ambiguity about the correctness of this comprehensive pro-health measure.
Nationwide, secondhand smoke causes an estimated 150,000 to 300,000 lower respiratory tract infections in infants and children less than 18 months old, and an estimated 200,000 to 1 million each year have their asthma symptoms worsened by secondhand smoke.
But even as Hawaii prepares to join other states in prohibiting tobacco smoke in restaurants, bars and other public places, a new threat is emerging that shows we still have a long way to go in protecting our children from tobacco. The new threat is flavored cigarettes marketed to youngsters.
Reynolds Tobacco's marketing campaign for flavored cigarettes is aimed at teens and young adults. "Kauai Kolada" was one of the new flavors that rightly attracted condemnation by Lingle and others when it first hit the market. "Kauai Kolada" is no longer sold, but Reynolds still sells five Camel Exotic blend flavors -- Dark Mint, Mandarin Mint, Twist, Izmir Stinger and Crema.
As former U.S. Secretaries of Health, Education and Welfare Joseph A. Califano Jr. and Louis W. Sullivan recently noted, Reynolds now has turned to alcohol-flavored cigarettes with cool names based on gambling terms -- ScrewDriver Slots, BlackJack Gin, Snake Eyes Scotch, and Back Alley Blend, a bourbon-flavored cigarette.
The two former secretaries call marketing candy-flavored cigarettes "child abuse," and the American Lung Association of Hawaii agrees. Ninety percent of adult smokers become addicted to cigarettes when they're kids, and the younger a child is when he begins to smoke, the more likely it is that he will be a smoker as an adult.
The pro-health, anti-tobacco coalition in Hawaii can be proud of the public smoking ban that will take effect this year, but the fight against candy- and alcohol-flavored cigarettes is just beginning. We hope that fight extends into the 2007 session of the state Legislature and results in innovative ways to address the latest insidious efforts of the tobacco industry to hurt our kids.
Sterling Yee is president of the American Lung Association of Hawaii