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Trust us, they said

My Opinion
Trust us, they said
Trust us, they said
Stephanie Taylor Ferriell
Stephanie Taylor Ferriell, Staff Writer, [email protected]

The tobacco industry is a marketing marvel. The campaign started well over a century ago with cigarettes and continues today with the e-cigarette trend. There’s no doubt we’ll be paying the price — in spades — for both for decades to come.

The dangers of smoking were voiced by a few doctors as soon as the early 1900s. A front-page newspaper story in 1917 warned of lung damage from cigarettes. That caught my eye because I had no idea anyone realized smoking was dangerous way back then.

The tobacco companies launched extremely effective marketing campaigns as early as the 1880s. One promised smoking offered “immediate relief in cases of asthma, cough, bronchitis, hay fever, influenza and shortness of breath.”

I’m sure you’re shaking your head just as I did at that one. Shouldn’t it have been an ad warning about those being the harmful side effects of the habit?

By the mid-1960s, the detrimental health effects of smoking were well-documented. That truth was nothing a few billion dollars couldn’t handle. Tobacco companies focused on ads intended to dispel the public’s fear that smoking could harm them. Some brands bragged they were “scientifically proven” to be less harmful to the nose and throat. Believe it or not, tobacco companies actually influenced some doctors to promote the idea that smoking was healthy and — get this — recommend it as a treatment for throat irritation. Doctors and dentists both were featured in print ads with bright smiles, the very image of health and happiness, and holding a lit cigarette. After all, how bad could smoking be if health professionals indulged?

Cigarettes were billed as a digestive aid as well as an effective diet aid. In response to Lucky Strike ads urging ladies to “reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet,” a lawsuit was filed by the candy industry!

Smoking became a rite of passage. In the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, it wasn’t so much a matter of if you were going to start smoking, it was when. The medical warnings began to have an impact, albeit slight, by the 1980s. While teachers and students took smoke breaks during the mid-’80s when I was a student at Corydon Central High School, it was starting to become less acceptable to smoke.

Then came the tobacco settlement in 1998. Forty-six attorneys general sued the four largest tobacco companies in an effort to recover tobacco-related health care costs. The settlement not only provided money for health care, it made the tobacco companies fund anti-smoking efforts. Isn’t that some irony?

Between cigarette-induced coughs, Big Tobacco rallied yet again. The companies developed a new — safe, they said — alternative to smoking. The e-cigarette was born.

I’ll admit, when I first heard about e-cigarettes, I reasoned that they were at least a lot healthier than regular cigarettes. If it helped people stop smoking, I was all for it. Vaping didn’t concern me; it sure smells 1,000 times better than cigarette smoke. And those fruit-scented canisters didn’t contain nicotine or harmful chemicals, right?

In the last couple weeks, we’ve all seen the Facebook posts and news stories about people dying — dying! — from vaping. One victim was even from right here in Indiana. We’re shocked and dismayed. While most of us had come to the conclusion that e-cigarettes were far from harmless, we were stunned to learn they could kill.

But, really, should we have been so surprised? When we’ve been letting the fox guard this hen house all along?

I wonder what they’ll come up with next.