The world has known for a long time that the big tobacco companies and manufacturers knew much more about the addictive nature of nicotine in tobacco then they ever let on. But it took major litigation and whistleblowing to reveal that the tobacco industry is in the business of addiction. Despite the leading U.S. tobacco companies giving sworn testimony before Congress in 1994 that they believed nicotine was not addictive–and standing by their earlier positions that tobacco was not harmful, cancer was caused by other factors, and that smokers assumed the risk of cancer when they decided to smoke–we now know that tobacco products, including conventional and electronic cigarettes, hookahs, vape pens/kits, are all just a means to an end. To stay in business, tobacco companies need people to be chemically dependent on nicotine.
In 2002, the World Health Organization (WHO) released The Tobacco Industry Documents, What They Are, What They Tell Us, And How to Search Them: A Practical Manual that contained information extracted from just a fraction of the six million formerly secret documents released by seven U.S. cigarette manufacturers and two affiliated organizations. Bert Hirschhorn, a John Snow, Inc. (JSI) vice president at the time, was responsible for developing the manual and for many of the unheralded discoveries and synthesis of what these companies knew about the addictive nature of their products.
For 31 years, May 31st has marked the annual World No Tobacco Day, supporting public awareness of the tobacco epidemic with the hope for increasing policies and initiatives that will help to reduce nicotine addiction around the world.
While there’s no doubt that some public health advances have been made, seven million people still die worldwide annually and the cost to society from tobacco-related illnesses and lost productivity is estimated at $2 trillion*.
According to the Truth Initiative, tobacco smoking killed 100 million people in the 20th century. This figure is staggering. Yet tobacco companies have raced to thwart the progress we’ve made in reducing cigarette use by transforming their products to keep pace with the electronic age.
In the U.S., teen vaping has already reached epidemic proportions. In 2016, the CDC reported that 2 million U.S. middle and high school students had used e-cigarettes or vaped in the past 30 days. The recent E-Cigarette Use among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General clearly states that e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive, and other ingredients including solvents, flavorings, and toxicants that are harmful and for which long-term effects are largely unknown. The latest research from the University of California San Francisco Center for Tobacco Research Control and Education, published in the Journal of American Medicine: Pediatrics, concluded the following from 10,384 teens surveyed from a representative national sample who had never smoked a cigarette: “any use of e-cigarettes, hookah, non-cigarette combustible tobacco, or smokeless tobacco was independently associated with cigarette smoking 1 year later.”
Tobacco companies have not skipped a beat in morphing their products and promotional tactics toward a new generation of tobacco users. E-cigarette manufacturers know full well that adolescent brains are not completely formed and are more susceptible to the effects of addiction. By 2017, some 34 countries either banned or restricted vaping on the advice of the WHO.
At JSI we work to make every day World No Tobacco Day by advancing a tobacco-free agenda in our research and consulting services where possible. #JSINoTobacco
*reported in the Tobacco Atlas