Taking a closer look at teen smoking trends; what a long, frustrating trip it’s been

Teen smoking rate

Yesterday, I posted about a Washington Post article examining the dropping smoking rate in the U.S. since 1970. As part of that article was information about teen smoking. I thought it was worth exploring in a second post.

Cutting the teen smoking rate is critical to stamping out smoking because virtually no one takes up smoking past the age of 21. Most smokers started when they were 16, 15, 14 years old. If a kid can make it to 19 without taking up smoking, he or she will likely never take up smoking.

It’s been a very frustrating battle to cut back on teen smoking, with both Big Tobacco and Hollywood conspiring to fight anti-tobacco efforts. However, the teen smoking rate has absolutely collapsed in the past couple of years; unfortunately, not necessarily for a good reason.

Teen smoking rate2


I made a second graph using my Excel skillz showing the teen smoking rate, then added some explanations for what has been going on for the past 25 years.

The teen smoking rate was incredibly high in the 1990s, peaking in 1997. What is considered the biggest culprit for this? Joe Camel. Joe Camel was introduced by RJ Reynolds in 1987 and was a disgustingly brazen attempt by RJR to lure teens into the smoking world with an aggressive campaign showing Joe Camel as cool, suave, sophisticated, hip, etc. Joe Camel was portrayed as an Air Force pilot, a motorcyclist, a James Bond character, etc.


RJ Reynolds never copped to this of course, but internal documents released by the various court cases confirmed it. According to these documents:

  1. A) In 1974, RJR’s Vice-President of Marketing gave a presentation that “young adult market . . . represent[s] tomorrow’s cigarette business. As this 14-24 age group matures, they will account for a key share of the total cigarette volume – for at least the next 25 years.”
  2. B) A 1974 memo by the R. J. Reynolds Research Department points out that capturing the young adult market is vital because “virtually all [smokers] start by the age of 25” and “most smokers begin smoking regularly and select a usual brand at or before the age of 18.

So they were absolutely going after kids. Joe Camel was incredibly successful. The teen smoking rate in 1991 was 27.5 percent and by 1997, it had grown to 36.4 percent (even as the adult smoking rate was plummeting during this time).

Then came along the Master Settlement Agreement in 1998. The MSA is much-maligned for not doing as much as it could have to stamp out smoking, but it did one extremely important thing — it banned Joe Camel. RJ Reynolds and other tobacco companies were no longer allowed to use cartoon characters (Many years ago, Kool used a cartoon penguin to market its brand) in their advertisements. One of the other things the MSA banned was the product placement of tobacco products in Hollywood movies.

No more on-screen smoking for you, Wolverine

This had a remarkable effect on reducing teen smoking, as did the billions of MSA funds spent on tobacco education programs in schools. The teen smoking rate dropped down to 21.9 percent by 2003.

Then a very weird thing took place. The teen smoking rate actually went UP in 2005, to 23.0 percent. What happened? One very big thing. States began to figure out they weren’t actually required to spend MSA funds on tobacco education and cessation programs and they started diverting the MSA payouts to their general funds simply balancing their budgets. Funding for anti-tobacco programs dried up. And the teen smoking rate rose. It was an incredibly frustrating period.

The other bizarre thing that happened is that even though placement of tobacco products was specifically banned in Hollywood movies, the rate of smoking scenes in PG-13, PG and even G movies actually went UP … even though Hollywood supposedly wasn’t collecting a nickel from Big Tobacco. They were literally giving Big Tobacco free advertising because Hollywood was stuck in this insane notion that smoking was cool and hip.

When it became apparent that Hollywood studios were part of the problem, a movement began to require an R rating for smoking scenes. Finally in 2008, the MPAA agreed to consider R ratings for smoking scenes. The policy isn’t perfect, but I think it’s actually worked, because movie studios don’t like R ratings and they just don’t want to bother butting heads with the MPAA over these ratings when they plan well ahead of time for movies to be rated PG-13. So, even well-known smoking Marvel characters such as Wolverine and Nick Fury were forced to stop chomping their cigars.

So, that teen smoking rate started dropping — to 18 percent in 2011 and 15.7 percent in 2013. Partly because of the lack of smoking in movies marketed to teens, I believe and partly because of the great work done by the Truth Campaign, a non-governmental, non-profit organization that’s been around since the late 1990s fighting teen smoking with a series of really good anti-smoking ads on TV and YouTube. Truth was originally funded with MSA funds, but that source has dried up and is now funded by donations and savvy investments.

girl e-cigarette
Kids using e-cigs … it makes me crazy.

The recent rapid drop in teen smoking is great, except for one caveat. The biggest reason for the recent collapse in the teen smoking rate (now, down below 10 percent) is the rapid rise in the popularity of e-cigs. The teen use of e-cigs tripled from 2013 to 2014 and in fact now, many more teens vape (13.4 percent in 2014 and I guarantee that number is higher now) than smoke. This is a mixed bag. On the one hand, teens aren’t smoking. But, on the other hand, they are getting addicted to nicotine. No nicotine addiction at all is the ideal. And studies have shown that a higher percentage of kids who vape eventually take up smoking than those who don’t vape. The Food and Drug Administration plans to ban e-cig sales to minors, but they need to crack down on e-cig marketing to teens (e-cig companies are using the EXACT same marketing techniques as Big Tobacco did 20 years ago to appeal to teens) and online sales of e-cig products.


Washington Post: U.S. smoking rate drops below 17 percent … and other smoking trends

smoking rate

A very nice article in the Washington Post this week about “who stills smokes today.”

First of all, the good news. According to the Post article, which got its numbers from the Centers for Disease Control, the smoking rate in the U.S. has dropped to 16.8 percent. That’s the lowest I’ve ever seen. It was only about  four years ago when the smoking rate finally dropped dropped below 20 percent (officially 2010). When I began blogging about tobacco about 10 years ago, the smoking rate was about 22 percent. The smoking rate dropped below 25 percent for good in 1995 and dropped below 30 percent in 1987 . .. see how slowly the smoking rate was dropping compared to the past few years?

This is fantastic news. I’m guessing one major factor for the escalating drop in the smoking rate is the rising popularity of e-cigs. E-cigs are fine for people trying to quit cigarettes, in my opinion, but it also sucks that so many teenagers are taking up e-cigs rather than cigarettes. Nicotine addiction is nicotine addiction … and it’s never a a good thing.

I made my own smoking chart (I rule … I can use Microsoft Works!) to further parse these numbers year-by-year. Click on it to blow it up. Notice the dramatic drop-off in the smoking rate since 2009. That’s e-cigs and higher cigarette taxes, more smoking bans and a lot less smoking in Hollywood movies all working together to drive down the smoking rate. Notice how the smoking rate flat-lined between 2004 and 2009 (In fact, the smoking rate dropped just 0.3 of a percent in those five years — from 20.9 percent to 20.6 percent.) It was a very, very frustrating time. The tobacco industry was successfully fighting anti-tobacco efforts by spending billions on advertising and marketing. After many, many battles in many state Legislatures, cigarette taxes went up and more states passed smoking bans and smoking was removed from movies marketed to kids — hence, smoking rates started declining.

Smoking rates
I made my own graph. I rule with Microsoft Works.

Also notice a fairly steep drop in the smoking rate between 1999 and 2004 (from 23.5 percent to 20.9 percent.). I believe that’s a direct result of the notorious 1998 Master Settlement Agreement. While this agreement was roundly and justifiably criticized, in the long run, it did a lot of good, such as banning tobacco marketing icons like Joe Camel and banning product placement in Hollywood movies (shockingly, smoking still kept showing up in kids’ movies even after the practise of tobacco product placement was banned.)

Here’s a bunch of other interesting tidbits in the WashPo article. This is another issue I’ve touched but a lot of people don’t think about when it comes to smoking trends. Not only are fewer people smoking today, but those who do smoke smoke less. This is mostly because of smoking bans in most workplaces and more rental residential units not allowing smoking. And generally because smokers have become a lot more savvy about not lighting up around kids and other nonsmokers.

smoking amount

In 2005, 12.7 percent of smokers smoke over 30 cigarettes a day (a pack and a half). Today, that number is down to 6.9 percent of smokers. Those numbers are mind-blowing to me considering that my dad smoked at least 80 cigarettes (four packs) a day and my mom many years ago probably smoked at least 40 cigarettes a day. Between the two of them — roughly six packs a day. Barely anyone smokes even three packs a day anymore. There’s simply not many places left where you can light up cigarettes that constantly.

Another tend touched on by the WashPo article that I was already aware of (but I’m glad the Post is writing about it) … the absolute direct correlation between smoking and education. The smoking rate for people with GEDs is 43 percent. For people with a high school degree — 21.7 percent. College degree, it’s 7.9 percent and for people with post-grad degrees, 5.4 percent.

smoking education

The ethnic group with the lowest smoking rate is Asians, while American Indians have the highest smoking rate at 29.2 percent. (Interestingly, Hispanics and blacks both have a lower smoking rate than whites.) Yikes, I didn’t realize that Native smoking rate was so high. That is a real problem.

smoking ethnicity

Here is something that has changed dramatically from 10 years ago — and this is mostly due to e-cigs, I believe. Teens and young adults have for many years now had the highest smoking rate of any age group. No longer. The smoking rate for people aged 18-24 is now 16.7 percent. The smoking rate for people aged 25-44 is 20 percent; age 45-64 is 18 percent and age 65-over is 8.5 percent (because by that age, many smokers are facing tobacco-related illnesses and are forced to quit.). I like the fact that the smoking rate for teens and young adults is so low, but I wish it was for a better reason than more young people simply taking up e-cigs instead (and I give the WashPo credit for talking about the effect of e-cigs on the young adult smoking rate.)


Analysis: The sickest states in the U.S., mostly in the South, do the least to snuff out smoking

southern tobacco

I already knew this, but I’m glad to see USA Today do a story on it.

It’s a fact that the highest rates of lung cancer are in the Deep South — where there are few indoor smoking bans and cigarette taxes are ridiculously low.

From the USA Today article:

States hit hardest by the ravages of tobacco are often the least aggressive at hitting back, a USA TODAY analysis found. So a deadly culture of smoking lingers, which officials say is fueled relentlessly by tobacco companies targeting minorities and the poor.

• Big tobacco-growing states such as Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia have the poorest and sickest residents, yet spend less than 20% of the federal government’s recommended minimum for tobacco education and enforcement.

• States with the most smokers weaken their own tobacco control efforts with cigarette taxes of 60 cents or less, compared with $3.75 in Rhode Island and $4.35 in New York.

• Hard-hit states also do the least to restrict smoking in places such as restaurants and workplaces and impose penalties of $100 or less on businesses selling tobacco to children, compared with $10,000 in the most aggressive states.

I like to show this phenomena graphically. Here is a map of the states with the highest rates of lung cancer. Darker is bad:









Now, here is a map of the states with the lowest cigarette taxes. Red means low taxes:









Now, here is a map with showing indoor smoking bans. White means total smoking bans, black means no statewide smoking bans (yellow means weak smoking bans).800px-US_states_smoking_bans.svg

Wow, it’s absolutely amazing the correlation, isn’t it? Actually, it really is, I’m not trying to be snarky.

Like I said, I’ve been aware of this correlation for some time, Now throw in the other factor of states in the Deep South spending little on tobacco education. Again, I’ve been aware of this for some time, the USA Today article speaks about how little states spend from the $280 billion Master Settlement Agreement on tobacco education, using that money instead to balance their state budgets (In USA Today’s word — “fix potholes.”).

Also, not a coincidence. Where is most of the tobacco in the U.S. grown? In the Deep South.

From USA Today:

Critics say one reason some states aren’t very aggressive is that tobacco is woven tightly into their communities even as the number of tobacco farms continues to shrink. “You can look at a map of tobacco control policies and see that every state that has weaker policies is a tobacco-growing state,” says Yvonne Hunt, who heads the tobacco control research branch of the National Cancer Institute.

Sitting in a cancer education booth at a free health clinic in southwest Virginia this summer, pharmacy student Anesa Hughes tried to explain why smoking is so common in her area. It’s “such a cultural thing,” says Hughes, who walked behind a tiller on her family’s tobacco farm starting at age 8. “It’s like we’re in a time warp.”

It’s a self-destructive culture. A mentality that “tobacco has always been a part of our culture.” Well, so has racism … does that somehow make it a good thing? These states have the highest smoking rates — Kentucky and West Virginia have been the highest for a while now, and places like Alabama and Mississippi aren’t far behind. People literally killing themselves and stubbornly clinging to the idea that somehow the right to kill themselves correlates to “Liberty,” or something… because their cigarette taxes are low and they can light up pretty much anywhere they want, especially outside the big cities. It’s a frustrating, exasperating reality. “Maybe I’m killing myself, but ain’t no Obama telling me what to do…” or some such thing.

As an aside, most of these Southern states also lead the U.S. in rates of diabetes. Part of that is smoking, it’s now known that smoking is a factor in causing diabetes, part of it is poor diet, obesity, lack of health care, high rates of poverty, etc. The sickest part of the country … which does little or nothing about it. And the people there keep voting for the people who do little or nothing about it.





Chris Christie actually comes off human — talks about his mother’s addiction to cigarettes


I’m not a big fan of Chris Christie, but without getting into his politics, I was really impressed with a talk he gave last week about addiction and the need for empathy for people struggling with addiction issues (are you listening “Christian” Ben Carson?)

From a Rolling Stone article:

The Republican presidential candidate first spoke about his mother, who took up smoking as a teenager and tried to quit multiple times before she was diagnosed with lung cancer at 71, and then about a close friend whose life was destroyed by a painkiller addiction.

“No one came to me and said, ‘Hey listen, your mother was dumb. She started smoking when she was 16, and even after we told her it was bad for her she kept doing it, so we’re not going to give her chemotherapy, we’re not going to give her radiation, we’re not going to give her any of that stuff. You know why? Because she’s getting what she deserves,'” Christie told voters. “No one said that. Yet somehow if it’s heroin or cocaine or alcohol, well,  we say ‘they decided, they get what they deserve’.”

I like Christie’s point. People pass judgement on someone struggling with meth or heroin? How is that person different from people struggling with nicotine? Someone who keeps lighting up even though they’re waking up with a smoker’s hack each morning, who keeps lighting up, knowing full well they could give themselves lung cancer. Because they can’t stop? It’s not that they’re stupid or don’t care or are lazy, it’s because they … physically … cannot … stop.

I will disagree slightly with one thing Christie says here, though I get his point. Yes, actually some people do pass judgement on people who get cancer from smoking. Data has shown that funding for lung cancer research falls short of other cancers (even though lung cancer is the No. 1 most deadly cancer), because there is this mentality lurking out there, often unsaid, but lurking nonetheless beneath the surface — those people who get lung cancer asked for it. So, while Christie said no one said this to his mother, the attitude is out there, hiding.

This empathy is something important to consider. I’ve watched loved ones in my own life and family destroy their lives with smoking. I have other family members who have struggled mightily to quit smoking. I don’t pass judgement on them.  I’ve been accused of passing judgement, usually by people who I feel don’t really pay close attention to what I’m saying or trying to say.

I also get that a lot of smokers feel defensive and feel that people are judging them. I’ve really run into that online, where smokers automatically assume I’m down on smokers. I’ve found myself more than once put on the defensive trying to explain to smokers, “I’m not down on smokers, honest! This isn’t about smokers. This is about an outright evil industry that hooked you on this stuff.”

Anyway, it was a surprisingly human moment coming from a guy who has a reputation for being a prick and a bully. I prefer Christie’s human and grounded opinion of addiction to someone like Carson, a doctor for Pete’s sake, who recently said that addiction is somehow caused by moral failings. No, moral failings are not what makes nicotine addictive, Ben.

Of course, Christie had to ruin the moment by then comparing addicts to fetuses in the womb … that you have to love all life whether it’s a fetus or an addict. Um … what? :/ He just had to throw that in there. I’ll let it go for the most part. He’s a Republican, he has to say that. Amazingly, in this video, Rachel Maddow said virtually the same thing. I swear, I posted this before I watched her video.
Here’s a video of his comments:

Another thing to worry about with e-cigs — sometimes they literally explode in your face

ecigarette explosion
Car seat after e-cig battery exploded.

I saw two stories within a few days of one another of two separate guys — one in Georgia and the other in Florida — in comas after their e-cigarettes exploded in their faces.

It sounds funny, but it’s not when people end up severely burned and put into comas. I found a bunch of stories and photos on Google about e-cigarette explosions or fires started by e-cigarette batteries. These are not isolated incidents.  But, these two latest explosions literally left two people near death.

The first was in Cobb County, Georgia, in September. A guy was left with a “dime-sized hole” in his mouth and had to be put into a medically induced coma with severe burns. The second was a couple of weeks later in Naples, Fla. A 21-year-old guy was left with severe burns to his face and neck and likewise also had to be placed into a coma after his e-cig exploded.

fire started by exploding e-cig battery.

I did a bit of Googling and found another major burn incident. This was a California woman who was injured in 2013 when her e-cigarette exploded. This story is about a jury awarding her a $1.9 million settlement over her injuries.

I don’t know the brands for the latest incidents, but the 2013 incident burning the California woman was a brand called VapCigs.

Ah, here we go — VapCigs are made cheaply in China.

This is yet another issue with e-cigarettes. Many brands are actually cheaply manufactured in China, where safety standards and regulations are notoriously lax. I’m wondering how many other accidents and explosions there have been that didn’t result in major injuries. That’s not even getting into the hundreds of poisoning cases that have occurred from kids drinking from the vials of nicotine that are part of using e-cigarettes (there have also been people poisoned by simply spilling this nicotine juice onto their skin.) And e-cigs remain wholly and utterly unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration.


Canadian court orders tobacco companies to immediately set aside $1 billion for class-action suit

Canadian cigarette brands

This story comes out of Quebec. The Quebec Court of Appeal has ordered two tobacco companies — Imperial Tobacco and Rothmans Benson & Hedges — to basically not pussyfoot around and immediately set aside $1 billion Canadian for plaintiffs in a massive class-action lawsuit.

I wrote about this several months ago. These two tobacco companies, plus a third company — JTI Macdonald — lost a $15 billion class-action lawsuit in June for misleading marketing, and for lying about  and covering up the health effects of their cigarettes. The case could benefit up to 1 million Quebec smokers who could cash in on the class-action litigation.  It is by far the biggest court victory against tobacco companies in Canada.

That decision is being appealed as expected. However, in the meantime, the Quebec court ordered two of the three companies to set up a $1 billion fund to immediately start paying out installments to some of the plaintiffs. This prevents the companies from putting off — possibly for several years —  making these class-action payments.

From a CBC News article:

“It is not acceptable that appellants merely say that they have no funds to satisfy the judgment or an order to furnish security and continue to distribute earnings because that is ‘business as usual,'” Court of Appeal Justice Mark Schrager said in his ruling.

“I do not question appellants’ right to appeal but neither can I stand idly by while appellants pursue an appeal which will benefit them if they win but which will not operate to their detriment if they lose.”

From the same article. The tobacco companies are not happy about the ruling. Boo hoo. In a released statement about the court decision:

“Imperial Tobacco Canada … does not believe it should have to secure a payment before all appeals are exhausted and a final judgment is rendered. Imperial Tobacco Canada continues to disagree with the overall judgment rendered by the Superior Court of Quebec. It is unjustified to hold legal manufacturers responsible for the personal choices of adult consumers and it will continue to defend that position as its appeals proceed before the courts.”

Just out of curiosity, I looked into who really owns Imperial Tobacco of Canada, Rothmans Benson & Hedges and JTI Macdonald, because I know there’s really only a handful of major tobacco companies in the whole world.

Sure enough, I was right. Imperial Tobacco is a subsidiary of British America Tobacco, the No. 2 tobacco company in the world. Rothmans Benson & Hedges is a subsidiary of Philip Morris, the No. 1 tobacco company in the world, and JTI Macdonald is part of Japan Tobacco, which bought out many of the RJ Reynolds brands such as Camel outside of the U.S. and is the No. 3 tobacco company in the world. I swear, it comes down to a handful of worldwide companies, it really does.


New Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has to fumigate John Boehner’s cigarette smoke from his office

boehner smoking

Something that isn’t talked about much with cigarette smoke is the sheer stench of it that’s left behind in the walls, furniture, carpet, drapes, etc. There’s actually a term for this stench — third-hand smoke. And for a lot of non-smokers, it’s pretty awful.

I had to laugh at a number of stories I saw about the new Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, (who coincidentally is a fitness nut who runs marathons and lies about running three-hour marathons), having to literally  fumigate John Boehner’s old Speaker office to “detoxify” it.


Boehner is not only well-known for being a chain smoker, but he once actually handed out checks from tobacco lobbyists directly to congresspeople in the House of Representatives. Talk about being a pretty brazen lackey of the tobacco industry. Not only was he a political sleaze, he was also apparently a real butthead of a smoker, too, who chain smoked in his office and smoked during closed-door meetings with non-smokers.

According to Ryan:  “I try to sit as far away from him as I can in meetings that I know are going to be stressful. I just hate getting that smell in my clothes.”

Seriously, only a clueless out-of-touch congressman could get away with that kind of stuff today. In defence of most smokers, no one smokes in offices and around non-smokers today. Not unless they’re in a bar. In certain states.

Well, if Boehner was smoking in his office, which he obviously was, doesn’t that violate Washington, D.C.’s ban on indoor smoking? Apparently, there is an exemption for congresspersons. Go figure. Wonder what role Boehner played in that?

Not only that, it isn’t cheap to get rid of the odour. This is all happening at taxpayer’s request. When Nancy Pelosi took over Boehner’s old Minority Leader office, she had to replace all the carpeting and drapes, have the paint stripped and then repaint the office to get rid of the odour. So, now it’s having to be done again to get the same reek out of Ryan’s new office. I’m guessing to have two offices completely refurbished liked that probably cost in the tens of thousands. They oughta send a bill to Boehner.

One thing I have learned about smoking bans — and I first learned this from talking to bar owners — is what a drag it is to get rid of the odour of cigarette smoke. In fact, I was talking to some bar owners the other day about this very thing. It is incredibly expensive and difficult to get that smell out of the walls, ceilings, etc. Even when I once had smokers downstairs in an apartment building, I had to have my own carpet cleaned to get rid of their downstairs smoke odour that wafted up through the floor. Just another good reason for indoor smoking bans. It not only damages other people’s lungs, it does a heck of a lot of damage to carpeting, walls, furniture and clothing.