By Mitchell Gauger Guest columnist
---- — By MitchellGauger
A lot can change in 50 years. Five decades ago the Kokomo Mall opened, the Beatles had their first No. 1 hit in the United States, and Indiana Gov. Matthew Welsh was working to ban “Louie Louie”.
On Jan. 11, 1964, another milestone was reached. The U.S. surgeon general published a report that, for the first time, established a scientific link between smoking and life-threatening diseases such as cancer. This report was the public’s first look at the lies of the tobacco industry, and laid the groundwork for the next 50 years of efforts to reduce the burden of tobacco on this country.
Since the surgeon general’s report was released 50 years ago, the country has made great strides in the fight against tobacco. At that time, the U.S. smoking rate was 42 percent. Today, it’s nearly half that at about 19 percent. This success is due, in large part, to tobacco control laws — laws that have been proven to encourage adults to quit tobacco use and prevent kids from ever starting the deadly habit.
Fifty years ago, cigarette manufacturers could use cartoons and television ads to entice kids to smoke. Today, flavors that are appealing to kids are banned in cigarettes, cigarette TV ads are no longer allowed and advertising near schools is prohibited.
In Indiana, we’ve made progress against tobacco, but this work is not finished. There are still 44 million smokers in this country, more than 1 million in Indiana alone. More than 3,000 kids try their first cigarette each day. Tobacco is still the No. 1 preventable cause of death, claiming the lives of more than 440,000 Americans, including 9,700 Hoosiers each year. Tobacco use causes more than 90 percent of all lung cancer cases and one-third of all cancer deaths. This addictive and deadly product continues to cost the state $2 billion in tobacco-related health care costs annually.
And though Kokomo passed a smoke-free policy in 2006, there is much work to do in this arena, especially in Howard County and the state of Indiana. Our city and state policy fails to protect all workers in our state due to the exemption for bars, private clubs and casinos. While half the nation is protected from secondhand smoke in workplaces, not all employees in Indiana have been able to exercise their right to breathe smoke-free air.
Meanwhile, the tobacco industry continues to challenge every legislative victory in court, manipulate products to get around existing regulations, produce and promote new tobacco products, and spend billions of dollars on marketing to deceive the public and to addict more kids.
This anniversary must be a call to action; it’s time to finish the job we started in 1964 to reduce the burden of tobacco on our nation. We know by increasing tobacco taxes, properly funding prevention and cessation programming, and passing comprehensive smoke-free laws, we can win the fight against Big Tobacco. We have to work with our legislators to make reducing the burden of tobacco in Howard County, in Indiana, and throughout the country, a priority. We can’t afford to wait another year, let alone another 50 years.
Mitchell Gauger is policy chairman of Breathe Easy Howard County.