Examine losing strategy of fighting teenage smoking
A sting operation indicates that teenagers in Hawaii find it easier to illegally buy cigarettes.
TEENAGERS' success in buying cigarettes has risen during the past five years, returning to the same level as a decade earlier, according to an undercover survey conducted yearly by the state Department of Health. Despite rising state tobacco taxes, too many youngsters are at risk of the lifetime addiction, and a closer look at this dangerous trend is needed.
Children working with undercover police officers were able to illegally buy cigarettes at 34 - or 11.2 percent - of 304 stores statewide where attempts were made. The percentage has risen every year since the 5.3 percent success rate of 2005. In the previous five years, the rate had fallen from 11.3 percent to 6.2 percent.
On Oahu, the children trying to buy cigarettes were able to do so at 15.5 percent of the stores, although clerks are supposed to check the identification for all cigarette purchasers who look younger than 30. Those who sell tobacco to kids can be fined as much as $500, although store owners are not penalized.
The teens might not fully appreciate how easy the addiction can be acquired and how difficult it is to quit. A new study by researchers in Montreal found that most teenagers who take up cigarettes make repeated attempts to quit, but most are unsuccessful.
"The study found that teen smokers make their first serious attempt to quit after only two and a half months of smoking, and by the time they have smoked for 21 months they have lost confidence in their ability to quit," said Jennifer O'Loughlin, the study's lead author and a researcher at the University of Montreal.
Cravings and withdrawal symptoms increase over a two-year period. They begin smoking daily a year later and, after two years of smoking daily, show full-blown tobacco dependence, according to the study.
Of course, tobacco companies are fully aware of that and continue to search for ways to hook youngsters. Big Tobacco has been chastised for marketing flavored cigarettes and in recent years has manipulated menthol levels to achieve the desired result, according to another new study by the Harvard School of Public Health.
Researchers found that menthol masks the harshness of cigarettes, making it easier for young people to begin smoking. "They discovered that products with higher menthol levels and stronger perceived menthol sensations suited long-term smokers of menthol cigarettes," the study concluded, "and milder brands with lower menthol levels appealed to younger smokers."
This is among the reasons why Congress should give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco products and ban cigarette additives, including menthol.