The revelations in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association that the tobacco industry used its economic clout to surreptitiously battle those companies that were trying to help smokers kick the habit should come as no surprise. But last Wednesday's Vindicator, in which the JAMA research was described, also told of four Mahoning County establishments that are still selling tobacco products to minors. Fighting decades of big tobacco's influence is not made easier by those who disobey the law forbidding sales to those under 18.
Lisa Bero and Bhavna Shamasunder, health policy researchers at the University of California at San Francisco found that drug companies toned down marketing campaigns for smoking-cessation products such as nicotine-based gum and skin patches because of pressure from the tobacco industry.
In one case, Philip Morris, a major purchaser of Dow Chemical's tobacco crop agrochemicals, objected to the Dow pharmaceutical subsidiary's product Nicorette chewing gum. In 1984, Philip Morris suspended purchases from Dow forcing the chemical manufacturer to scale back educational materials encouraging doctors to urge their patients to quit.
In response to Bero and Shamasunder's published findings, Philip Morris spokesman Brendan McCormick said the documents cited are old and do not reflect the company's current beliefs that cigarette smoking "causes serious health effects in smokers and is addictive."
Cigarettes still rolling
Philip Morris is so strongly committed to those current beliefs that it continues to spend billions manufacturing and marketing its products. But why should anyone be surprised?
As its older consumers die off, the only way tobacco can continue to be profitable in the United States -- the industry has no scruples about selling tobacco products to nations whose people haven't learned about smoking's hazards -- is if young people are hooked on tobacco.
Despite the industry's lipservice to discouraging teens from smoking, no one should take their half-hearted approach seriously.
So much has tobacco use become part of the American landscape that even though it is illegal for those under 18 to be sold tobacco products, many establishments continue to look the other way when teens use cigarette vending machines, refuse to check IDs or, worse, ask for identification but ignore what they see.
Those individuals who don't follow Ohio's law on sales of tobacco products to kids can be cited and fined -- an unpleasant surprise for the typical minimum- wage worker at a corner food mart or bar.
In the most recent sting conducted by the Mahoning County Sheriff, only four of 12 establishments visited in Boardman, Youngstown and Austintown were caught breaking the law. We look forward to the day that the region boasts full compliance.