Smokeout message aimed at newest smokers: teens

November 21, 1996|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,SUN STAFF

Hell-ooo? Is there anybody out there in America who isn't trying to quit smoking, thinking of quitting smoking or getting hassled for refusing to quit smoking?

If there is such a person -- who surely must have been living under a rock for the last decade or so -- today there's this yearly national anti-smoking day to deal with.

Yes, today marks the 20th annual Great American Smokeout sponsored by the American Cancer Society. But if that news lacks the oomph it had when it first kicked off two decades ago, blame it on a more educated American public.

It seems like adults are getting the "don't smoke" message put out by the society.

"This is our 20th year," says Susan Bauman, a spokesman for the American Cancer Society in Baltimore. "And we think it has made an impact, because the [U.S.] smoking rate has dropped from 36 percent to 25 percent."

Of course, the cancer society isn't exactly a lonely voice in a smoke-filled wilderness any more.

Today there is a constant drone of warnings from the medical community, from government and university researchers, even from leaks within the beleaguered tobacco industry itself, all offering yet another good reason to chuck the nicotine habit.

Last month, it was the news that sucking up a pack of cigarettes a day -- or more -- doubles the chance of developing age-related macular degeneration. In a nutshell, that means smoking can lead to blindness. Worse. Age-related macular degeneration is difficult to nearly impossible to treat.

Research has also concluded that smoking can lead to the development of cataracts, which cause vision loss. Although, with treatment, many people with cataracts do not lose their vision.

But smoking affects more than vision. The list of negatives keeps getting longer and longer. Smoking has been linked to cancers affecting a minimum of five body organs. It is a factor in heart disease and impotence. It even causes early wrinkling of the skin.

Yesterday, there was rare "positive" news on smoking out of the University of California at San Diego. Its study suggests that young cigarette smokers have sharper memories and quicker recall than nonsmokers.

But even those researchers qualified their report by saying that their findings don't outweigh the high risk of death and illness linked to smoking.

So, smoker or anti-smoker, you may ask: Does it still make sense to set aside a day to push people to stop smoking? Isn't that pretty much what goes on every day?

Bauman thinks the Smokeout is still relevant, even if it doesn't get as much attention. The society, she says, is every bit as active getting the word out by sponsoring its "Fresh Start" classes and going into schools to talk to young people, among other activities.

And, she says, people are still responding. About 10 million people took part (at least for a day) in the Great American Smokeout last year, according to estimates by the society.

"We don't expect it to drop this year. We've done a lot more promotion, and people are addicted," she says. "They want to quit."

That's the adults, anyway. Teen-agers are another story. The vast majority of new smokers, up to 90 percent, according to the society's statistics, are under the age of 18. So the Smokeout's message has changed accordingly.

"We are also using this day to encourage kids from starting to smoke," Bauman says.

Pub Date: 11/21/96

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