When I arrived on campus for the first time in September, many things surprised me: How beautiful the trees on President’s Lawn are, how intensely the early 2000s have come back into fashion and, unfortunately, how many people I saw smoking cigarettes.
Cigarettes were first introduced in the United States in the early 19th century as an alternative to tobacco usage in pipes, cigars and chewing tobacco. They were used during World War I to keep soldiers calm and pain-free, and the military even started including cigarettes in soldiers’ rations in World War II. Early and somewhat rudimentary studies on the negative effects of smoking cigarettes began exposing the causal relation to lung cancer in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
In January of 1964, then-Surgeon General Luther Terry held a press conference where he condemned smoking as the cause of lung cancer and likely heart disease, citing the research of American Cancer Society scientists E. Cuyler Hammond, Ph.D and Daniel Horn, Ph.D. Their study delineating the cause-and-effect relationship between smoking and lung cancer was the first to collect long-term data and include non-smokers in their participant sample, which bolstered the credibility of the research.
Surgeon General Terry’s landmark statement in 2001 led to the percentage of young cigarette smokers declining substantially. The first e-cigarette device was invented in 2003 by pharmacist Hon Lik with the intention of helping him quit his own cigarette habit. Contrary to his original aim, the rising popularity of vaping has shaped a new generation of nicotine-dependent smokers.
When e-cigarette manufacturers realized that teenagers represented an untapped consumer base, they began aggressively marketing their products towards them. Unfortunately, those campaigns have successfully contributed to the rising use of tobacco by youth. Some who became dependent on nicotine in their early youth now turn to cigarettes as an alternative and sometimes more accessible source of nicotine. Others are falling prey to smoking addictions in their young adulthood.
At Tufts, I have witnessed the repercussions of young smokers, who picked up the habit after the height of anti-smoking campaigns, manifesting everywhere from the cigarette butts littering the sidewalk to the secondhand smoke that too often lingers on Pres Lawn.
“I think it’s mostly shocking to see anyone our age smoking cigarettes, I’ve never seen any cases of that at all at home,” freshman Emma Dawson-Webb wrote in a message to the Daily. “It seems like such an old school danger and we’ve been able to witness what it does to older generations with lung cancer or from smoker’s cough. … Somehow, even though a lot of the vaping is doing the same damage, it doesn’t scream out as morally wrong or dangerous in the way smoking cigarettes does.”
Local convenience stores around campus sell cigarettes and will continue to do so until consumer demand is eradicated or our community takes a firm stance against tobacco and its known harms.
Decades of data collected from cigarette smokers prove the numerous health consequences of smoking cigarettes. Although lung cancer is most commonly associated with smoking, other forms of cancer such as mouth and throat, liver, kidney and pancreas have all also been linked to smoking. Smoking increases the risk for conditions such as chest pain, heart attack, heart failure and arrhythmia, and it has made COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses worse.
Additionally, tobacco products contain over 7,000 toxic chemicals and are the most littered item on the planet. They pollute our environment from the oceans to city sidewalks, according to the World Health Organization. Other victims of the smoking epidemic include those who suffer health complications due to second-hand smoke exposure. Often the children or loved ones of cigarette smokers are at high risk for heart disease, lung cancer, SIDS, asthma and pneumonia.
Fortunately, the growing base of public knowledge on the harmful consequences of smoking have allowed for campaigns such as The Truth to push the anti-smoking agenda further. Though 43% of adults in the U.S. smoked regularly in 1965, that number has dropped to 14% today. This means that, although the problem seems prevalent to me from what I have witnessed from my time on campus, we are moving in a positive direction nationwide.
But there is still work to be done. Vaping, although it has been marketed as harmless compared to traditional cigarettes, has been facilitating the resurgence of nicotine addiction in young adults. Unlike Y2K sunglasses, cargo pants and platform sandals, the comeback of smoking has tangible harms. Given the clear environmental and health dangers, we as a community must work together to reduce the prevalence of smoking at Tufts.