A burning health zombie: Why do we smoke still, and now vape?


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Dear Readers,

As much as Hollywood adores its fantasy, flesh-eating, impossible-to-kill monsters, many consumers remain in the clutches of their own, very real killer zombies. This month, we look at smoking (and its new cousin, vaping) and why this self-destructive habit continues to lure young and old, and then doesn’t let go.




Still deadly after all these years

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Despite decades of warnings, millions take up smoking — cigarettes, cigars, pipes, marijuana doobies, too. Homeless kids, already struggling, tell researchers they wish they knew how to quit, especially because they’re “sniping” — picking butts off the ground. Affluent young people flock to trendy lounges to get hooked on hookahs. It seems to be part of the “bromance” ritual now to puff away on a pricey stogie.(Did anyone else notice how much of the coverage of the renewed Washington-Havana relatonship focused on greater availabilty of fine Cuban cigars?) And while there may be edible varietals, pot fanciers are toking up on fat reefers, many now without fear of getting arrested. And now, millions are racing to  “vape” with so-called smokeless e-cigarettes.

Did these people miss the news flash? Or maybe it’s been said so often that it fades into the background.

Overpowering scientific research has shown how harmful smoking is — for the lungs, heart, and just about every organ that smoke and nicotine touch, even skin tone and healthful appearance.

Those who think they can dodge the harm by not inhaling kid themselves: Pipes, cigars, and hookahs expose users to tongue, lip and other oral cancers, and these users don’t escape smoking’s other harms.

Health advocates have campaigned for more than half a century against smoking. Optimists say millions of lives have been saved as a result, by reducing the numbers of new smokers and helping long-term smokers break the addiction.

Still, nine in ten smokers take up the habit as teenagers, and now about 800,000 American teens every year start smoking. So the tobacco industry’s death machine rolls forward. We may not be able to stop it, but we can sure slow it down.

(Big tobacco gets a huge boost from its No. 1 lobbying ally, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which attacks so-called frivolous lawsuits by ordinary folks trying to hold corporations accountable, yet promotes lawsuits by Big Tobacco, and sends its lobbyists literally world-wide to discourage governments from doing anything to wean their peoples from tobacco addiction. See my rant on the Chamber last summer, prompted by a big expose in the New York Times.)

How we can help our teens

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Big Tobacco knows that teenagers are its future. They’re the No. 1 population vulnerable to the alleged glamour and rebelliousness that smoking supposedly conveys, and they lack the judgment, because of their under-developed prefrontal cortexes, to make mature choices that require weighing short-term pleasure against long-term sorrow.

Our kids and grandkids need our help.  Here’s some common-sense advice from a group called TeenHelp.

Their best practical tip: Get your teen involved in sports, preferably more than one kind. Kids active in sports have a better body self-image, less depression, and more awareness of how toking on a cigarette interferes with their playing abilities. The CDC says the more sports a youngster plays, the less likely they are to take up smoking. Makes sense.

Another thing you can do: When you see a tobacco company sponsoring an athletic event or concert, point out the subtle manipulation to your teen.  And talk to and with your teen about smoking. Ask them why so many of their peers smoke. Listen to what they say. Give them facts, not just about long-term death and destruction, but about how hard it is short-term to stop smoking once they’re hooked.

A word about marijuana: Yes, it has possible medical uses. Yes, it’s not as bad as tobacco. But regular smoking of pot, particularly heavy use, isn’t beneficial to lung health.

As for e-cigarettes, yes, it’s true that all the slam-dunk health data isn’t in yet. Though they’re less used by adults, it’s disheartening that they’re proving so popular with the young. Health officials fear that use of these devices offers a gateway to smoking or lifetime issues with nicotine.

Make no mistake about it: Though “smokeless,” e-cigarettes are just another way for users to get a fix of nicotine, which research shows is a decidedly harmful substance. It’s also one of humankind’s longest and seemingly insatiable addictives.

When they vape, e-cigarette users also may be taking in more than what they bargained for, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has reported. The paper went to gas stations and convenience stores to collect samples of the liquids that users vaporize in their e-cigs, sending these to labs for careful analysis.The paper said the labs found some of the samples contained “high levels of two chemicals known to cause permanent and sometimes fatal lung disease: diacetyl and its chemical cousin, 2,3-pentanedione.”

There are yet other woes with these nicotine-conveyance systems, including that their vaping solutions all too often are colored with dyes and packaged so youngsters can mistake their toxic contents as candy.

The marketing and hard-sell for e-cigarettes offers another clue about why those concerned with health issues should put their regulatory targets on e-cigarettes: Big Tobacco, not wanting to get left behind, is sinking billions into this market and these products.


Resolved: quit smoking

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If you’re a smoker, you have our sympathy. You need to know only two things: First, it’s not too late to get real health benefits from quitting. Second, although quitting is hard, there are abundant resources to help users kick their addiction.





Patrick Malone
Patrick Malone & Associates





No. 1


Smoking is the most preventable cause of death


1 in 5



Deaths in U.S.A. caused by cigarette smoking



16 million



Americans living today with smoking-related diseases



1 in 3



Heart attack deaths caused by smoking