A Democratic Congress has moved into Washington. They're tackling health care. Talking about bipartisan cooperation. Thinking about redistricting. But one man says they should be focusing on something else... smoking. Not lighting up themselves, of course, but preventing kids across America from doing so.

William V. Corr, executive director of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, says it's about time that Congress took on Big Tobacco. He's urging them to grant the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority over the black stuff, and the ability to crack down on the marketing and sales of cigarettes to kids.

It's not exactly new news. Congress first debated the issue nearly a decade ago, and the Senate passed it in 2004. But the House of Representatives failed to follow. With Democrats now in Washington, it just might finally happen.

"Tobacco use remains the nation's leading preventable cause of death," says Corr, "killing more than 400,000 Americans every year." In December, the National Institute on Drug Abuse released its annual Monitoring the Future survey. For the third year in a row, the survey found no statistically significant change in smoking rates for young adults.

That set off some alarms with the anti-smoking set. Over the past decade, smoking has declined by more than half among 8th and 10th graders and by more than 40 percent among 12th graders. But since the 1998 state tobacco settlement, total tobacco marketing has more than doubled to at least $15.4 billion a year, according to Federal Trade Commission. In fact, more than $41 million a day is spent on hawking the stuff, and much of it on hawking it to kids.

All that advertising works. According to the Centers on Disease Control (CDC), each day, approximately 3,900 young people between the ages of 12 and 17 become smokers. Twenty-three percent of American high school students smoke and 8 percent of middle school students. So what's a parent to do?

  • Talk the talk, and walk the walk. What parents say, how they act, and the values they communicate through their words and deeds has an enormous influence on children, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Research shows that children who have a parent who smokes are more likely to smoke and to be heavier smokers at young ages. When parents quit smoking, their children become less likely to start smoking and more likely to quit if they already smoke.
  • If you smoke, share your struggles to quit with your children. Kids greatly underestimate how difficult it is to quit smoking. Showing how hard it is to quit (and making sure quitting doesn't look easy) can help eliminate this misperception. Continuing to try to quit, despite the difficulties, also sends a strong anti-smoking message.
  • Maintain a smoke-free home. A smoke-free home makes children less likely to smoke, even if their parents smoke. By not allowing anyone to smoke in their homes, parents not only make smoking less convenient for their kids but also make a powerful statement that they believe smoking is undesirable.
  • Tell your kids that you don't want them to smoke and will be disappointed if they do. Parental attitudes, opinions, and feelings about their kids' smoking status greatly influence whether or not kids will smoke, even when the parents smoke.
  • Emphasize the immediate health effects. Most teenagers wrongly believe that smoking will have no direct effect on their health until they reach middle age. But smoking causes many immediate or near-term effects on health, including persistent coughs, respiratory problems, a greater susceptibility to illness, and decreased physical performance.
  • Emphasize the effects of smoking on physical appearance. Cigarette ads create the image that smoking is sexy and attractive – and kids identify improving self-image as a reason for smoking. But smoking actually causes yellow teeth, bad breath, smelly clothes, and more severe and early facial wrinkles.
  • Show your kids how cigarette ads and images are designed to manipulate them. Research studies have found that kids are three times as sensitive to tobacco advertising as adults, are more likely to be influenced to smoke by cigarette marketing than by peer pressure, and that one-third of underage experimentation with smoking is attributable to tobacco company advertising and promotion. Parents can reduce the powerful impact of all the cigarette ads and positive-smoking images that confront kids every day by talking with their children about the ads' false ideas of glamour, maturity, coolness, and beauty, and about how the tobacco companies try to manipulate kids into becoming their future addicted consumers.
  • Support tobacco-prevention efforts. Simply put, vote. Support state or local laws to make restaurants and other public areas smoke-free, or new initiatives to enforce the existing laws that prohibit cigarette sales to kids. Vote for state laws banning cigarette vending machines or a new federal law to give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco products and their marketing, that parallels the FDA's existing authority over other food and drug products. Support increases to federal or state cigarette taxes (which reduce smoking rates, especially among kids) or new state investments of tobacco-settlement funds in programs to prevent and reduce youth smoking.


These tips were provided by the advocacy group, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. For more information, check out their website at www.tobaccofreekids.org.