Ruling on cigarette ads spotlights cancer risks
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Cigarette companies spent $12.4 billion -- more than $34 million a day -- on advertising in the United States alone in 2006.
But the head of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department said he welcomes a federal judge's ruling earlier this week that major tobacco companies must run more advertisements -- this time admitting that they "deliberately deceived the American public about the health effects of smoking," the judge said.
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered tobacco companies on Tuesday to publish an advertising campaign saying they lied to the public about the addictiveness of cigarettes.
The advertisements will run for up to two years. What type of media and how much the campaign will cost is still under consideration.
The tobacco companies will "no doubt appeal" the decision, said Dr. Rahul Gupta, executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.
Gupta said, "it's important that now the federal judge is recognizing" the companies' lies.
"[Tobacco companies] are going to have to pony up and let the American people know that they did not have the American people's interest in their heart when they were trying to push a product on them, which is obviously harmful and may be responsible for millions of deaths," Gupta said Thursday.
Gupta said Kessler's ruling Tuesday is "a good step forward in understanding and trying to advocate for a tobacco-free West Virginia."
The corrective statements ordered by Kessler acknowledge the adverse health effects of smoking.
"Smoking kills, on average, 1,200 Americans. Every Day." is one statement the companies would be required to use.
Another -- "All cigarettes cause cancer, lung disease, heart attacks and premature death -- lights, low tar, ultra lights and naturals. There is no safe cigarette." -- blatantly express the dangers of smoking cigarettes.
'Lung cancer synonymous with smoking'
Smoking cigarettes contributes to 90 percent of lung cancer deaths in men and 80 percent in women, according to the American Lung Association. Lung cancer is, by far, the leading cause of cancer death among men and women, according to the American Cancer Society.
Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.
"Lung cancer is synonymous with smoking," Gupta said. "Lung cancer has a very predominant cause. Smoking, smoking and smoking are the top three causes."
The leading cause of death and disease in West Virginia is tobacco use, according to the state Division of Tobacco Prevention.
Nearly 27 percent -- almost 10 percent more than the national average -- of West Virginia adults smoke cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We know we are No. 1 in tobacco use across the country," Gupta said of West Virginia.
In 2012, the American Cancer Society estimates that about 226,160 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed (116,470 in men and 109,690 in women).
More than 160,000 people will die this year from lung cancer.
November is National Lung Cancer Awareness Month.
Gupta said lung cancer is unique because "not only is it prevalent, but it is also avoidable.
"For a lot of the cancers, we don't understand the reason people get them," Gupta said, "but lung cancer can be prevented in the first place from not smoking and not being around smoke."
Nonsmokers have a 20 percent to 30 percent greater chance of developing lung cancer if they are exposed to secondhand smoke, the ALA stated. Exposure to secondhand smoke is blamed for 3,400 lung cancer deaths among nonsmokers every year.
Cigarettes contain more than 4,800 chemicals, 69 that are known to cause cancer, according to the ALA.
Not every person who gets lung cancer is a smoker, though, and not all smokers develop lung cancer. Ten percent of lung cancer patients are exposed to other risk factors.
The second leading cause among nonsmokers is exposure to radon, an invisible gas, according to the ALA.
Working in occupations that expose people to asbestos can lead to lung cancer, Gupta said.
He said there are no specific signs to look for when detecting lung cancer because most of them -- continuous coughing, repeated cases of pneumonia and difficulty breathing -- are symptoms that occur with other diseases, too.
'Why take a 50/50 chance?'
Michelle Stevens, mission delivery account manager for the state American Cancer Society chapter, asks those who do smoke cigarettes: "Why take a 50/50 chance on your life?
"Why would you take your life at such a high risk just to [smoke cigarettes]? If you try it just one time, you could get addicted," Stevens said. "So why would you want to risk in trying it, becoming addicted for life and taking your life at risk?"
Seven out of 10 smokers do want to quit, Gupta said.
It's not that people who smoke don't know it's bad for their health, he said, it's the fact that they are addicted.
"We have to help them," he said.
People who don't get treatment and do develop lung cancer have several options, such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, Gupta said.
For those who want to quit now, though, there are numerous options. Counseling, nicotine-replacement products, such as patches and gum, and meeting with a doctor are a few options, he said.
The West Virginia Quitline, 1-877-966-8784; The American Cancer Society, 1-800-227-2345; the state Division of Tobacco Prevention, 1-304-356-4193; or the American Lung Association's website, www.lung.org/stop-smoking, are available, too.
"We have to try to get people to quit, but when they want to quit, they should have everything available to them. They shouldn't have to spend an arm and a leg if they want to quit," Gupta said. "We have to be there for them. Even though people want to quit, quitting is the hard choice and continuing to smoke is the easy choice. We have to make quitting the easy choice for smokers."
Reach Megan Workman at email@example.com or 304-348-5113.