Stopping those who would make addicts of millions

Some battles take a long time to bear fruit.

Take the fight against smoking in the US.

It was 50 years ago when then the US Surgeon General first put out the warning on how smoking can kill.

Nearly half of the US population smoked in 1964 when this happened. Popular culture, aided by aggressive advertising, painted smoking as cool and hip. Supposed health hazards were overstated. It was seen as a harmless habit.

But a government campaign, combined with the efforts of advocacy groups focused on health and youth issues to discourage smoking has paid off.

Today, less than a fifth of the country smokes.

I personally owe my health and perhaps even my life to this campaign which began around the time I was born.

I began smoking when I was in my teens. And I was still a smoker when I moved to the US in the early 90s.

By then, the anti-smoking mood was already strong in the US although I didn’t let that keep me from the habit initially.

During a brief stay on the East Coast, I would join other smokers in standing outside a friend’s house to enjoy a smoke – even in the middle of winter. It would be cold and raining, and there we were, getting a nicotine fix.

It was crazy – but we just had to do it.

Going back to school in Berkeley, and becoming a ‘starving graduate student,’ forced me to give up the habit. It simply became too expensive.

I still remember smoking my last cigarette at Narita Airport in Japan shortly after boarding my connecting flight to San Francisco before my first semester of grad school began.

That was the day I quit. In fact, I still remember the date: May 9, 1990. It was the day of my liberation.

The fact that close to a fifth of people in the US are still hooked on nicotine is unacceptable to many anti-smoking advocates.

A coalition of groups that include the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society are now pushing to bring that number down to below ten percent and to strengthen laws that would protect people from second hand smoke.

I know the fight against smoking still faces an uphill battle in the Philippines. There are certainly many lessons to be learned from the US campaign.

In fact, the battle against nicotine has become even more critical in countries like the Philippines.

Consider what a study published this month by Journal of the American Medical Association found: While smoking has become less popular in the United States, smoking has become more widespread globally.

The number of adults who smoke jumped from 721 million to nearly a billion between 1980 and 2012, according to the study as reported in the
Seattle Times. The number of cigarettes smoked all over the world also rose sharply to 6.25 trillion from 5 trillion.

That’s staggering.

A recent New York Times editorial warned that the tobacco industry is “invading foreign markets, often in less developed countries, in an effort to make addicts of millions more customers to replace those in industrialized nations.”

But the 50th anniversary of the US anti-smoking campaign shows there’s hope.

It may take time, but those who would want to make addicts of millions can be stopped. The American experience shows it can be done.

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