Smoking and adolescence
19 Oct 2017 by Nev Haynes
A future without smokers?
The film Bladerunner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve) has just been released. Although the critics do not praise it to the skies, without having been able to see it yet, I also doubt that it is better than its predecessor, Bladerunner (Ridley Scott, 1982), a masterpiece of the science fiction genre. The plot revolves around humans and androids who live on a post-apocalyptic planet Earth, enduring a constant acid rain that contributes to create an oppressive, polluted and dark atmosphere. Living in so much fog and pollution, some characters smoke constantly, contributing a dense blue mist to suffocate us, until a melody of Vangelis sounds or we take a ride in a flying patrol car. An absorbing culture of decadence, violence and a final scene with a ray of hope. An android incarnated by Rutger Hauer, exhales his last words to a perplexed Harrison Ford in one of the most famous final scenes in film history: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion …”. The dark sky opens and allows a dove, as the ancient Greeks thought, to ascend to the light embodying the soul of the deceased.
Long before this futuristic scenario, Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo, who in 1535 was the governor of Santo Domingo (Hispaniola), describes the plant whose smoke was inhaled by the American Indians, as well as the pipe with which they smoked, called “tobago”, word from which the name “tobacco” arises. Francisco Hernández de Bóncalo, sent in 1570 to the Americas by Felipe II, studied its supposed qualities and on the return planted the tobacco plant in an old country house (cigarral, in Spanish) in the surroundings of Toledo. Hence the name of cigar. The adventurer could hardly imagine the magnitude and consequences of that initiative.
Nowadays, in these post-vacation dates I’m still surprised to walk down the street and see how some young people dressed in school uniforms, backpacks with juvenile acne and those who are changing their voices, light a cigarette and start smoking, not without some clumsiness. Summer brings with it a collection of new experiences with friends and cousins to emulate. The great feared puberty has landed with all its artillery, just as the Allies did on the beaches of Normandy, curiously also in a summer, back in 1944.
The potential victims of smoking try to adopt a pose and a ways that comically reminds me of some black and white movie character like Sam Spade, although if I spoke to those born in the 21st century of the great Bogie, most of them they would stare at me without knowing that the first Hollywood actors, not like the actors of today, more forced by the exigencies of the script, were the greatest smoker recruiters of history, sponsored by the great tobacco brands. But let’s not forget that both Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne, two of the toughest guys on the big screen, died of lung cancer.
That commercial of the Marlboro cowboy lighting a cigarette while watching a sunset on his horse’s back already looks like a distant urban legend. Until well into the 1990s, brands tried to associate smoking with an image of manhood and freedom, strength and personality. It’s hard to believe today, surrounded as we are with a fever for healthy living. Of the seven actors who starred in Marlboro ads, five died from smoking-related illnesses, including lung cancer. Sadly, the brand’s cigarettes began to be known as “cowboy killers.”
Tobacco brands are no longer allowed to sponsor sporting events as they did before and it is true that less and less scenes are seen in movies with smoking characters. Fortunately, in the movie industry Mecca, the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) qualifies films as R, or restricted to children under 17 years of age being accompanied by an adult, if some character smokes, such is the influence that stereotypes still exert on adolescents, as well as how the population begins to confront one of the most pernicious vices ever invented.
52% of adolescents smoke by imitation. Driven by the chemistry of hormones, the development of personality and the logical need to be part of a group or collective, the pubescent want to demonstrate to their peers and their elders that they are no longer children. Their bodies are undergoing visible changes and they wish that the limbo that supposes no longer to be prepubescent or to be still adults is as brief as possible. Teenagers need role models. Their parents, musical idols or the stars of the big screen, even brothers or older cousins. They believe themselves immortal, untouchable by the black hand of cancer.
The potential victims of smoking try to adopt a pose and a ways that comically reminds me of some black and white movie character
It is proven that if a person has not smoked before reaching adulthood, the odds of engaging in this bad habit are drastically reduced. The tobacco manufacturers know this and the Ministries of Health know it too. The juicy taxes collected through millions of smokers recharging the state’s coffers every time someone buys a pack of cigarettes equals a country’s arms spending. And this is not just an expression.
According to official NATO figures, Spain spent 11,064 million dollars in 2016. This figure represents 0.91% of its GDP. For its part, Spain’s tax revenue from excise taxes and tobacco VAT amounted to 9.110 billion euros in 2016, and represents the fifth source of revenue of the State. Specifically, cigarette sales account for 87% of total tobacco sales. 80% of the retail price of the packages equals taxes. But do not be fooled. That myth that the State collects taxes to make profit of this collective vice is false.
According to the National Committee for the Prevention of Tobacco (CNPT in Spanish), the costs generated by clinical cases associated with tobacco, total a total of 15.8 billion euros, 15% of its total public health budget. And to this figure we can add the cost of public and private companies, which exceeds another 7.5 billion euros. In theory it would be necessary to almost double the PVP of each pack to cover the expenses in Health derived from smoking. The UE Statistical Office (Eurostat) estimates that health and social expenditure on tobacco accounts for 1.7% of GDP, although the CNPT goes even further in the belief that such a percentage could exceed 2% if all related economic costs with smoking.
There are other figures that are even more worrisome: 1 in 14 men in the world will suffer from lung cancer, compared to 1 in 17 women. In the US alone, 225,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. In Spain, according to the Spanish Society of Medical Oncology (SEOM, in Spanish), one in two men and one in three women will have a cancer throughout their life. According to the Spanish Association Against Cancer (AECC, in Spanish), in 2015, 23,119 men and 5,205 women were diagnosed with lung cancer in Spain, among males being the third most common type of cancer after prostate and colorectal cancer. Among women, it is the fourth most common cancer after breast, colorectal and uterus. Combined, lung cancer is the most common type of cancer in the world. In Spain, more than 40,000 people are expected to suffer from cancer in 2035.
Spain spent 11,064 million dollars in 2016. This figure represents 0.91% of its GDP. For its part, Spain’s tax revenue from excise taxes and tobacco VAT amounted to 9.110 billion euros in 2016, and represents the fifth source of revenue of the State.
The average age to start smoking in Spain is 13.9 years. Something terrible, if one thinks about the amount of cigarettes they have left to smoke these “potential victims”. Before reaching the age of majority, 29% of boys and 32% of girls have ever smoked. As time goes by, the smokers are 20% of the women and 30% of the men, totalizing 25% of the Spanish population, above the 15 years of age. Since you cannot ban their consumption, or at least no one wants to bell the cat, the only way to eradicate these numbers is to raise awareness of the population. Not only raising the awareness of young people that smoking kills, but also the economic, social and family cost. If we adults do not smoke as much as our elders did, perhaps new generations will emulate other, healthier habits.
In Spain, the Ministry of Health has just launched the Non Smoking Challenge campaign, using viral marketing techniques among the youngest, around the undeniable fact that smoking carries a lot of harm and not a single benefit (http: //www.nonsmokingchallenge.com). Iceland, for its part, is a model for the prevention of youth alcoholism by activating the Youth in Iceland campaign. The promotion of sport and healthy life is “wreaking havoc” among potential smokers and drinkers, reversing the trend of other EU countries. Thus, Finland has gone from being a country with the highest rates of young drinkers in the late twentieth century, almost to eradicate the consumption of alcohol among young people. So, as in Bladerunner, despite the bleak outlook, a ray of hope allows us to glimpse a smokeless future. That would be worth seeing, even more than attacking ships in flames off the shoulder of Orion, don´t you think?