In the 1950s and ’60s, it seemed cigarettes were everywhere – restaurants, stores, homes.
Smoke was so common you never even noticed the smell or the fog – hard to imagine now. There were no non-smoking sections or smoke-free public places.
Movie stars made smoking look sexy and glamorous. Helping my parents host a card party meant getting out the fancy ashtrays and keeping them emptied.
Holiday gifts routinely included stylish cases for cigarette packs, funny cigarette holders and the coveted monogrammed Zippo lighter.
A retired physician, now passed, shared that he and his colleagues commonly would encourage smoking to reduce anxiety. Advice to an anxious expectant mother would often be to go home, have a drink and cigarette and just relax.
Major marketing of cigarettes throughout World War II and beyond continued unabated until the highly addictive aspects and severe health consequences were too late realized. At huge cost to health and pocketbook, it took decades, lawsuits and heartache to reverse the trend.
These memories were basis for a strange type of déjà vu that took hold in my brain last week. Listening to discussion of preliminary survey results about Berrien County trends in health-related behaviors, there was a weird sense of history repeating itself, and not in a good way.
I’d been aware vaguely of the popularity of cigarettes in younger generations. While most of my friends and age contemporaries don’t smoke, I’ve been surprised repeatedly to find younger people often do – even smart young people.
What’s going on?
The 2012 Surgeon General’s report on preventing tobacco use among youth concluded “... that there is a causal relationship between tobacco industry advertising and promotional efforts, and the initiation and progression of tobacco use among young people.”
Per the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, in 2016, cigarette and smokeless tobacco companies spent $9.5 billion on advertising and promotional expenses in the United States alone. The advent of e-cigarettes has only compounded the problem.
While a 1971 federal ban on TV and radio advertising of cigarettes was established to avoid marketing to children, no such ban exists for e-cigarettes, and the internet is wide open.
Likewise, a 2009 law banning flavors from cigarettes doesn’t apply to e-cigarettes.
Common marketing now offers kid-friendly flavors such as cotton candy and gummy bear, and packaging that looks like common food items. College scholarships have even entered the marketing mix.
By 2016, it was estimated nearly 4 out of 5 middle and high school students had seen at least one e-cigarette advertisement.
Flashback to last week’s discussions on what’s going on in Berrien County.
Use of cigarettes by the local 18- to 24-year-old set has decreased dramatically while use of vaping and e-cigarettes is surging. Preliminary data suggests that 45 percent of Berrien County adults 18-24 are current vape smokers, and 61 percent have used an e-cigarette before.
There’s a common misnomer that e-cigarettes are a healthy alternative. Unfortunately, less than 1 percent of the products on the market are nicotine free.
The now wide variety of “electronic nicotine delivery systems,” or ENDS, typically deliver two to three times higher levels of nicotine than a traditional cigarette. The potential for addiction is mind-boggling.
Time can dull memories. Then: A product touted as relieving anxiety actually caused addiction with severe health implications. Now: A product touted as relieving addiction actually increases likelihood of addiction.
Being led down a primrose path is not comfortable in any era.
Lynn Kellogg is CEO of Region IV Area Agency on Aging in Southwest Michigan. Questions on age or independence services? Call the Info-Line for Aging & Disability at 800-654-2810 or visit www.areaagencyonaging.org. The Generations column appears each Saturday in The Herald-Palladium.