The Cooler Thing
by Clara Wagner:
I’ve never smoked. I’ve never held a cigarette, or tasted tobacco, or spent major time in a house with smokers. In 5th grade my entire school went through the D.A.R.E. program; that just happened to be the single year I was homeschooled. I know a few kids who do E-cigs, and a few old classmates decided to make chewing tobacco ‘the next cool thing’ for a few months our senior year, but that’s it. I have a lot of causes—things I’m passionate about, that I get involved with, that my friends are sick of hearing me rant about—tobacco has never been one of them. But I might just add it to the list, and here’s why:
It’s already at the top of another list: the list of preventable causes of death. It kills about 30 times more people than murder. The statistics alone are a call to arms. If we eradicated tobacco use, we could save the lives of the estimated 553 women in the US who die from tobacco related disease every day, plus their counterpart number of men. Saving over a thousand lives a day? I’ll put that on my resume, thanks very much. Smoking might not be a ‘hot topic’ right now, but it’s one that is catastrophically ending and affecting more lives than anything else popping up on your social media feed.
It’s a hopeful cause, and that’s really refreshing. Race issues, feminist issues, political issues, gender and sexuality issues, poverty issues, international issues—they’re all at pretty ugly points right now, and there are days when it feels hard to be optimistic about them. But eradicating tobacco use is actually at our fingertips. Tobacco use is on the decline, especially when it comes to youth. In 2000, 23 percent of teens smoked. That number now? 7 percent. Since 2003, the US went from having only one tobacco free campus to 1,475. This is a cause with federal money, prominence in public education, and momentum in the right direction.
I’m a part of the demographic that matters. Because when it comes down to it, that 7 percent of teens who use tobacco is the crucial number, because they’re the generation that will define tobacco use of the future. 7 percent? That seems tantalizingly close to zero. But it won’t get there without the youth deciding that that’s where it should be. Our population is especially susceptible to peer pressure, image marketing, and addiction. Half of the teens who try cigarettes in college are still smoking four years later, and hookah and e-cigarette use is on the rise. Those things seem to have gotten the reputation of being less harmful, but the truth is that an hour long hookah session is equivalent to smoking five packs of cigarettes, and e-cigs are unregulated by the FDA and therefore filled with god-knows what. Most vapes aren’t tobacco free, either, even though that’s become a common misconception. To my fellow millennials—we don’t always get the best reputation. But what if we stopped buying into ‘the next cool thing’ and helped create, form, and support the first tobacco-free generation?
Yellow Fever, the Measles, Small Pox— the US has eradicated those. Tobacco is just as much of an epidemic, and it’s one that we’re actually empowered to end (without a PhD, that is). So why is it still around? It doesn’t have to be. And by the time I have children, I pray it won’t be. So long story short, yes—I have a new cause.