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CDC taking on smoking image

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched a different kind of anti-smoking campaign. Perhaps inspired by the effectiveness of nasty political ads over the past several election cycles, the CDC is going negative in an effort to combat the carefully cultivated image by tobacco purveyors that smoking is what the popular people do.

The way the CDC is attacking that utopian concept of smoking is by bringing to bear facts, words and pictures that tell the truth about what tobacco does to the smoker and those who breathe second-hand smoke.

It’s an uphill battle, even for a federal government agency. Tobacco companies in 2008, according to CDC figures, spent just under $10 billion advertising and promoting cigarettes. That means that every day of the year in 2008, $27 million was being spent to entice nonsmokers to start and smokers to keep on puffing.

Left out in the tobacco companies’ advertising is just how lethal their products are, causing 443,000 deaths a year, including about 49,000 to non-smokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke. And for every one of those deaths, 20 more people — 8.86 million — are suffering from at least one serious illness caused by smoking.

Tobacco use, the CDC says, is the No. 1 leading preventable cause of death. On average, the agency says that smoking cuts 13-14 years off your life compared to the lifespan of non-smokers.

And in a time when we’re all pinched for cash, cigarette smoking costs America more than $193 billion a year, with $97 billion of that coming from lost productivity and almost as much — another $96 billion — in health care costs, costs that could be avoided. When you add the $10 billion that secondhand smokes costs the United States in areas such as health care expenses, morbidity and mortality, the price tag exceeds $200 billion a year.

The younger the individual, the more likely he or she is susceptible to catchy marketing, particularly when you throw in the feeling of immortality that a lot of teenagers have. Every day, more than 3,800 people under the age of 18 take a first puff on a cigarette. And every day, the CDC says, 1,000 teens under 18 begin smoking on a daily basis.

It would be one thing if there were a medicinal value to tobacco, but if there is one, we’ve never heard of it. Smoking is simply the voluntary inhaling of poisons into your body, poisons that will eventually cause you to face debilitating, deadly health problems — lung disease, probably starting with bronchitis before moving to chronic airway obstruction and emphysema; heart disease; stroke, and cancer.

It’s true that every person who is born will die someday, but smoking will move that day closer and closer with every puff.

There is a glimmer of hope in all this. If you quit smoking and don’t start back, you can reduce your risk of dying before your time. And it can be done. It has been done. The CDC has information on how you can be one of those by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW or visiting www.smokefree.gov.

It’s worth the effort to try. There’s absolutely nothing glamorous about letting your life go up in smoke.