Area smokers not fired up about lawsuits

by Heather Fors

A flurry of multimillion-dollar lawsuits recently brought against tobacco companies nationwide have mostly resulted in the companies reaching deep into their pockets for settlements. But many people on campus say the tobacco companies are not totally at fault.
Although many campus smokers were hooked at an early age, most say they are willing to share the blame for getting started.
“I’m completely educated, but just stupid I guess,” said Chris Barke, a College of Liberal Arts freshman who smokes.
This sentiment was echoed by Aaron Little, an Institute of Technology freshman who’s been smoking for two years. “It was the peoples’ fault that got to smoking in the first place.”
Paul Downs, a CLA junior who has smoked for six years, agreed that the tobacco companies are not the ones to blame. He said their marketing strategies are just as admirable as other company’s. “They sell cigarettes just like they sell jeans,” Downs said.
However, he said the impact of seeing popular figures smoking, on television or in the movies, has more of an impact on the young than strategic marketing. “We live in a TV generation,” Downs said.
Barke said he started smoking because of his admiration for James Dean in the movies. “He looks cool, ya know.”
But Little argued that popular culture doesn’t influence people to smoke.
“I don’t think anyone sees Joe Camel sitting on a billboard and says ‘that’s cool, I wanna smoke,'” said Little. He said he started smoking in social situations with his friends.
Yet there is evidence that tobacco companies have targeted underage smokers, said Harry Lando, who is with the Division of Epidemiology in the School of Public Health. Lando has researched smokers’ behavior for 25 years. He said 90 percent of the people who start smoking are underage.
“If they don’t get them as adolescents, they don’t get them at all,” said Lando of the tobacco companies.
Dave Golden, director of community health at Boynton Health Service, said everyone is to blame.
“It’s sort of like everyone’s hands are dirty in the whole thing,” said Golden. He noted that the state charges taxes on cigarettes because they know the health risks involved.
Lando added that although the tobacco companies perpetuated fraud and tried to cover up the harmful effects of smoking, there is controversy in the amount of money the state is asking for.
Some smokers, however, find the idea ridiculous. “That’s like getting pissed at car companies for polluting the environment,” said Barke.