Prather Pediatric and Allergy Center - Ask Doctor Brent

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As summer approaches, we hear lots of talk about decreasing smoking among our youth. I am in total agreement with every measure proposed by President Clinton and congressional leaders to decrease smoking. A recent Surgeon General, C. Edward Koop feels that we should begin to take nicotine out of cigarettes, which would eventually get smokers off of the world's most addictive drug. Obviously, this would ruin the tobacco industry in America and would force them to make their profits in foreign countries as the American profits declined. Is this a fair business decision and is this wise? I have mixed feelings on the business side of the issue but I definitely think it is wise from a medical point of view. Addiction to cigarettes and nicotine kills about seven hundred thousand Americans every single year. This is far more than any other single cause of death and suffering. We know that smoking cigarettes greatly increases the risk of cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, and a hundred other medical problems.

The cigarette companies in America know that in order to be successful they have to hook hundreds of thousands of new smokers every year. They do this by advertising to our youth in the form of Joe Camel posters in most of the inner cities in America and other creative ways of entrapping our children. This is obviously a major health risk to our children and I think it is appropriate that our government wants to stop it. I think every doctor and political leader in America should be pushing in this direction.

Parents should remind their children of the obvious immediate consequences of smoking including bad breath and poor physical health with lack of stamina, and respiratory function. Also, they should teach kids about the more serious long term consequences. I personally would be in favor of high taxes on all cigarettes to make it even more expensive and harder for young people to smoke. The taxes should all be directed directly to medical care for these people who choose to smoke and burden society with their expensive medical problems for the rest of their life.

All these ideas on decreasing and eventually stopping smoking in America are considered radical. Nevertheless, if we really want to have a healthy society and protect our children, I think they are worthy ideas.

After we make a major dent in smoking in America, we should aggressively work to decrease drinking, which is the second leading health risk in our society. This could be done in many creative ways such as higher taxes on beer and other alcoholic beverages and penalties for anyone selling to children. We also could, as a society, say enough is enough and stop all advertising of drinking. It is presently portrayed as a glamorous activity usually associated with sporting events or just being cool and hanging out in the mountains fishing and camping. This is not the right message to send our children. Millions of broken homes, heartaches, and alcoholics is the direct result.

Finally, drugs which is probably the third leading health and safety issue in our society continuously needs to be attacked by our governmental leaders and by all people who are good citizens. As a child advocate and pediatrician, I feel that we all need to stand up against drugs and stop glamorizing growing or smoking of marijuana as an innocent activity. Unless the adults in our society lead by example, our youth will never follow in the right direction. We should all start by cleaning up our own bad habits and practicing what we preach. By beginning to do this now, we can truly save our children from future misery and save our society.