Happy anniversary? Half of that sentiment is inarguably true.
Saturday marked an anniversary of no less than a watershed moment in American culture. On Jan. 11, 1964, U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry released a report conveying a stark and stern message. The unequivocal statement was that smoking caused illness and death. And government officials were urged to take steps to stop Americans from killing themselves.
In a sense, the information was nothing new. Prior studies had linked smoking to ill effects. But in 1962, Terry announced he would convene a panel to review available evidence and produce a report that would put an end to any lingering doubt. In a savvy move, Terry allowed the tobacco industry to veto any proposed panelists it deemed biased.
This was meant to ensure that Terry wasn’t playing with a stacked deck. He notched a victory anyway.
FAST-FORWARD five decades. In the wake of the report, Congress required cigarette packs to be printed with warning labels. Advertising for cigarettes has been drastically curtailed. The Associated Press reports that 42 percent of adults smoked in the U.S. 50 years ago. Circa 2014, that rate has declined steeply to 18 percent.
Good news, right? Well, perhaps.
According to the AP, 18 percent is still around 43 million smokers nationwide. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 443,000 people die early from smoking or from being exposed to secondhand smoke every year. Another 8.6 million live with a serious illness due to smoking.
This is hardly an abstract concern about something happening somewhere else.
Spend any time in a convenience mart, drug store or grocery store in Goshen and you’ll see someone purchasing a pack or carton of smokes. People can still be seen lighting up away from “smoke-free” environments. Most heartbreaking of all, too many of our young people persist in taking up the habit. Each generation figures the next one will make a better choice when it comes to smoking. Hope springs eternal. So does disappointment.
WHAT TO MAKE of people continuing to shortchange their future in the face of irrefutable evidence? We at The News wish we had a clue.
Our best guess makes us sad about the human condition. A segment of the population, it seems, is steadfast in poor decision-making. It starts smoking to fit in with peers, perhaps, or stake a claim to rebellion. Addiction sets the hook. Then it kills.
The obvious course of action is continued education of our children. Those who present evidence of smoking’s dire effects can hardly be accused of being alarmist. Facts are facts. And maybe, one day, an entire new generation of people faced with those facts will make a better choice.
As it stands today, smokers can mark 50 years of not being able to say they didn’t know better.