Editorial | On 50th anniversary of tobacco warning, where does vaping fit?

January 18, 2014 

At the Golden Globe Awards the other evening, some of the celebrities were blowing vapor -- not tobacco smoke -- from electronic cigarettes and they caught some flack for supposedly glamorizing smoking. Critics of tobacco use say the movie stars set a bad example.

Another take, perhaps a stretch for some, is that Leonardo DiCaprio’s exhales demonstrated a potential tool to help smokers quit.

The kerfuffle over vaping -- the term for using electronic cigarettes -- came in the week of the 50th anniversary of the first U.S. Surgeon General report on the health effects of smoking. The first report, in January 1964, linked smoking to lung cancer and 31 additional reports have shown a scientific smoking-cancer connection for nearly every organ in the human body. Smoking is a major cause of heart disease and strokes.

In the United States, per capita consumption of cigarettes reached its peak in 1963, when smokers represented more than 42 percent of the adult population. In 50 years, the percentage has dropped to 18.

The S.C. Tobacco-Free Collaborative, based in Columbia, outlines several positive developments that have resulted from the Surgeon General reports on smoking, tobacco use and dangers of exposure to secondhand smoke -- from cigarettes, cigars or pipe smoked by other people. The collaborative, based in Columbia, cites decreased smoking rates for adults and youth; smoke-free workplace laws; increased tobacco, “which curb youth smoking rates’’ and better tobacco control efforts.

Still, South Carolina has an estimated 759,000 smokers -- that’s 20.2 percent of the state’s population age13 and older. The number of new, young smokers is especially troubling. Data from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control suggests “4,000 youth in South Carolina will become new, daily smokers this year alone,’’ the collaborative says.

The S.C. cigarette tax of 57 cents a pack is one of the lowest in the nation. And until July 1, 2010, the tax was only 7 cents. The increase was not easily accomplished.

“All told, the state and federal tax burden of tobacco on each S.C. household is $553 per year.’’ That’s smoking-caused government expense, according to Megan Hicks of the collaborative, through Medicare and Medicaid. The U.S. cost is $193 billion a year for direct medical costs and lost productivity, the data coming from the Surgeon General.

The cost figures are especially pertinent. Some South Carolinans like to cite individual rights (use of vehicle seat belts comes to mind) but here’s the point regarding “smokers rights.’’ If there is a “right’’ to smoke, there surely is a right not to smoke -- and to not be exposed to the tobacco smoke, and its health effects, of others.

Well, what about those e-cigarette vapors? For now, no one can say secondhand vapors are harmful although that hit of nicotine for the e-cigarette user is still nicotine.

Coastal Carolina University’s plan for a tobacco-free campus by later this year will ban e-cigarettes as other universities have done. Under way at CCU is “Live Well at CCU,’’ an initiative to help students and staff quit smoking.

CCU trustees and administrators feel a tobacco-free campus is “in the best interest of our students for their health and well-being,’’ trustee Larry Biddle says. It makes sense that “tobacco-free’’ means no vapors, thank you, from simulated cigarette smoking.

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