Scaring off smokers

The CDC and FDA have teamed up to try to further reduce the incidence of smoking.

Erin Lengas

I’m going to be honest: There’s nothing I hate more than taking a deep breath, expecting to inhale the crisp Minnesota spring air but instead getting a mouthful of cigarette smoke.

I’ve always wondered how someone could deliberately harm their body in such an obvious way and why government organizations and the media haven’t done more to voice the negative side effects of smoking.

Almost as if they were inside my head, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recently created guidelines and programs that address the harm of tobacco use.

Starting in April 2013, the FDA will require tobacco companies to list harmful ingredients on tobacco products. They recognized 93 harmful and potentially harmful constituents found in tobacco products and will require the listing of 20, which are representative of the entire group.

But let’s get real — although labeling these harmful ingredients on packages is being more honest about what’s in cigarettes, will it really persuade someone to quit smoking?

I’m hoping that by now smokers realize their habit is unhealthy. And no, reading that you’re inhaling formaldehyde doesn’t sound good for you, but just listing the harmful and potentially harmful chemicals in cigarettes does not demonstrate the effects they have on a smoker’s life.

That’s where the CDC comes in. They have already begun to release graphic advertisements that show real smokers or former smokers attesting to the negative side effects of smoking.

The ads are running through all media: billboards, magazines, newspapers, radio, television, theater and online. They are also being spread with the help of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other forms of social media.

If anything, these ads — these very real, firsthand accounts of life-changing experiences — will be a driving force to spur smokers to quit.

The CDC is backing up the ads with scientific evidence that states these types of graphic campaigns are impactful. The hard-hitting, emotional and sometimes disturbing images coupled with encouragement and tips on how to quit are proven to be successful in reducing the number of smokers in the U.S. Along with the advertisements, the CDC has started a “tobacco education program” and “tips from former smokers.”

It’s important to listen to these tips because more than 1,200 people die from smoking each day in the U.S., according to the CDC. And smoking doesn’t just affect the smokers themselves. Each year, 49,000 people die from secondhand smoke exposure. In Minnesota, between 2000 and 2004, an average of 5,536 people died each year.

Let’s narrow the scope of this smoking discussion to the University of Minnesota. With such a large, urban campus, it would be difficult to institute a smoking ban like other schools in the state. According to Boynton Health Service, 25 colleges are smoke free or tobacco free in Minnesota including Minnesota State University, Winona State University and University of Minnesota-Duluth.

However difficult integrating a smoke-free campus would be in the Twin Cities, forcing smokers to head off campus to light up might prompt more to try to quit.

Whatever the reason, smokers need to know the real life consequences that can result from tobacco use. If this motivates them to quit or simply helps them prepare for their future, the FDA and the CDC have done their job publicizing the harmful effects of smoking.