In 1964, cigarette commercials on television were as common as cigarette smoking. But all of that changed when Surgeon General Luther Terry shocked the nation by announcing that smoking caused lung cancer and was directly linked to heart disease. One surgeon general after another has added more evidence that smoking and secondhand smoke are dangerous.
According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, years after the decline of cigarette smoking, cigarette usage recently has increased. Although almost everyone has heard about the dangers of smoking, the habit seems to be on the rise because of a resurgence in the old belief that smoking is, simply put, cool. According to the Surgeon General’s report, characterizing smoking as something cool has recently created the “social smoker.”
This recent resurgence in young smokers also is accompanied by a seemingly omnipresent “cool” stereotype for cigarette smokers. A study conducted by JAMA Pediatrics in 2011 examined the prominence of smoking on popular television shows. The study found that 40 percent of shows contained at least one scene with tobacco, and of those scenes, 89 percent involved cigarettes.
Despite the resurgence in young smokers today, and the emergence of the social smoker, there are those who are beginning the process of becoming smoke-free, but that does not come without some challenges.
“Sometimes, students will come looking for assistance with quitting,” said Lynn Moran, director of the Student Health Center at the University of Indianapolis. “But sometimes, they just aren’t ready to quit yet.”
The stigma behind social smoking has added an additional level of difficulty to dropping the habit.
“It is especially hard for a social smoker to quit,” Moran said. “The temptation to return to his or her usual friends and hangouts makes quitting that much more difficult.”
Many studies, including one by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2011, have suggested this rise in popularity specifically represents a large demographic of teen and young adult smokers.
Smoking among America’s young people has reached epidemic proportions, starting them on the path to a lifetime of addiction, the U.S. Surgeon General’s office said in its first report since 1994 on youth smoking.
Among U.S. high school seniors, one in four is a regular cigarette smoker, and because few high school smokers are able to quit, some 80 percent will continue to smoke as adults, according to the report.
According to the Surgeon General’s report, advertising messages that make smoking appealing to young people are commonplace in today’s pop culture, and advertising for tobacco products is prominently displayed in retail stores and online.
Not only do ever-present advertisements for cigarette smoking mold the teen and young adult outlook on the habit, but the big budgets of pro-smoking campaigns and companies have risen in the past few decades.
Vice President for Research at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Danny McGoldrick said that big tobacco is spending almost double the amount they spent in 1998 to market their products. They have also increased efforts to block policies aimed at reducing smoking.
McGoldrick also stated smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing more than 1,200 people every day. And for every tobacco-related death, two new “replacement” smokers under the age of 25 take up the habit.