Monday Medical: Be aware of tobacco advertising tactics

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It shouldn’t take a heart attack or lung cancer to shock a person into recognizing the reality of tobacco use.

Unfortunately, tobacco industry tactics continue to undermine anti-tobacco efforts, creating new tobacco users who struggle with nicotine addiction while putting themselves and others at risk for severe health problems.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. and in the world. Every year, tobacco kills nearly 6 million people globally, including more than 600,000 nonsmoker adults and children who die of secondhand smoke exposure.

The World Health Organization marks May 31 as World No Tobacco Day, highlighting tobacco-related health risks and challenges, such as industry advertising, in the fight against tobacco.

In 2006, the five largest cigarette manufacturers spent nearly $13 billion, more than $34 million per day, on advertising and promotion, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Much of this money went toward making cigarettes cheaper for consumers through coupons and price discounts paid to cigarette retailers. This helped counteract increased taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products in states including Colorado.

Also, large manufacturers of cigarettes have invested in smokeless tobacco products, which often are taxed lower than cigarettes and are less expensive for consumers.

Youths are among the groups most vulnerable to these tactics. The American Lung Association’s “State of Tobacco Control” report this year notes that while cigarette use among youths is declining, more are using cheaper smokeless-tobacco products.

It is important to recognize that smokeless tobacco is not a safe alternative to cigarettes. It contains nicotine, the highly addictive chemical in cigarettes, and chemicals linked to gum disease and cancers of the esophagus, mouth and pancreas.

Smokeless tobacco is not just chew and snuff. Tobacco companies also are making products such as snus, which do not require the user to spit, and dissolvable products or forms of ground tobacco that look like breath strips, toothpicks and gum.

Middle and high school students are exposed to tobacco advertising in stores, magazines and on the Internet and may be enticed by fancy tobacco packaging. It’s not surprising that the tobacco industry often targets adolescents. More than 80 percent of adult smokers begin smoking before age 18, according to a 2012 Surgeon General report.

Once a person becomes addicted to nicotine, it can be very difficult to quit. Nicotine withdrawal can make a person irritable and anxious and can cause him or her to have difficulty sleeping and concentrating.

The prospect of quitting can be daunting, but regardless of how long a person has smoked, it’s worth the challenge. The benefits of quitting smoking begin within 20 minutes after a person’s last cigarette, when his or her heart rate and blood pressure drop. After 15 years of living tobacco free, a person’s risk of coronary heart disease is that of a nonsmoker. Quitting smoking after a heart attack can reduce by half a person’s chance of having another heart attack.

It often takes multiple attempts to quit tobacco. Cessation counseling and support can significantly improve a person’s chance for success. Here in Northwest Colorado, various support resources are available at no charge to help individuals through the difficult process. All of the following resources are available in English and Spanish:

■ The Colorado QuitLine offers personalized cessation phone support for smokers and smokeless-tobacco users. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

■ The SmokefreeTXT program provides personalized text message support for smokers. Text the word QUIT to 47848.

■ The Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association offers counseling with a tobacco cessation specialist in Steamboat Springs or Craig. The program is available to smokers and smokeless-tobacco users. To speak with a counselor, call 970-871-7634.

Tamera Manzanares is a community outreach specialist for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association. This article includes information from the World Health Organization, www.who.int, and the American Lung Association, www.lung.org.

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