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We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby: The Detour Away from Tobacco in the U.S.


Virginia Slims is a brand of cigarettes introduced in 1968 and marketed to young professional women using the slogan, "You've come a long way, baby." The brand’s later campaigns have used the slogans, "It's a woman thing" in the 1990s, and "Find your voice."


Today it’s certainly hard to fathom that the theme of empowerment and independence would be used to market something as addictive and damaging as tobacco, especially since the health risks of tobacco were already well-established at that time. The good news is that the collective shift away from tobacco has accelerated exponentially over the last decade. According to the CDC, as of 2015, a total of 15.1% of the U.S. smoke, down from 20.9% a decade earlier.


Here are some other interesting facts and milestones in the recent history of smoking in the United States.


Big Tobacco = Big Money

  • U.S. cigarette manufacturers now make more money selling cigarettes to countries around the globe than they do selling to Americans.
  • Cigarettes are the single-most traded item on the planet, with approximately 1 trillion being sold from country to country each year. At a global take of more than $400 billion, it’s one of the world’s largest industries.
  • According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 25% of cigarettes sold around the world are smuggled.
  • The American brands Marlboro, Kool, Camel and Kent roughly own 70% of the global cigarette market.



    Sad Statistics

  • The U.S. states with the highest percentage of smokers are Kentucky (28.7%), Indiana (27.3%) and Tennessee (26.8%), while the states with the fewest are Utah (11.5%), California (15.2%) and Connecticut (16.5%).
  • The United States' market is the only major cigarette market in the world in which the percentage of women smoking cigarettes (22%) comes close to the number of men who smoke (35%). Europe has a slightly larger gap (46% of men smoke and 26% of women smoke), while most other regions have few women smokers.
  • Worldwide, according to 2015 data from the WHO, Iran had the lowest rate of tobacco use at 11.1% and the Republic of Kiribati had the highest at an alarming 52.2%.
  • Contrary to popular social belief, it is NOT illegal to smoke tobacco products at any age. Parents are within the law to allow minors to smoke and minors are within the law to smoke tobacco products freely. However, the SALE of tobacco products is highly regulated with legal legislation.


A Recipe for Disease and Death

  • Cigarettes can contain more than 4,000 ingredients, including arsenic, formaldehyde, lead, hydrogen cyanide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, ammonia and 43 known carcinogens.
  • In the early 1950s, the Kent brand of cigarettes used crocidolite asbestos as part of the filter, a known active carcinogen.
  • Urea, a chemical compound that is a major component in urine, is used to add “flavor” to cigarettes.
  • “Light” cigarettes are manufactured with air holes around the filter to aerate the smoke as it is drawn in. Many smokers have learned to cover these holes with their fingers or their lips to get a stronger hit, causing the same overall levels of tar and nicotine to be consumed.
  • Several active ingredients and special methods of production are involved in making sure the nicotine in a cigarette is many times more potent than that of a tobacco plant.
  • The nicotine content in several major brands is reportedly on the rise. Harvard University and the Massachusetts Health Department revealed that between 1997 and 2005 the amount of nicotine in Camel, Newport and Doral cigarettes may have increased by as much as 11%.


Selected Milestones in Tobacco Research, Promotion and Surveillance

1950: Studies showing a link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer published.
1955: The Current Population Survey (CPS), conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, collects the first federal statistics on smoking prevalence in the United States.
1956: U.S. Surgeon General Leroy E. Burney convenes a panel to assess the evidence on the association between cigarette smoking and health.
1962: Surgeon General Luther L. Terry establishes a second expert committee, independent of the first, to again review the evidence on the relationship between smoking and lung cancer.
1965: The U.S. Congress adopts the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act which requires warning labels on cigarette packages and annual reporting by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to the U.S. Congress on the health consequences of smoking.
1969: The U.S. Congress adopts the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act, which prohibits cigarette advertising on television and radio.
1971: Cigarette ads are permitted on TV for the last time. This date was extended by a day, from December 31, 1970 to January 1, 1971, to allow the television networks one last cash windfall from cigarette advertising in the New Year’s Day football games.
1980: Promoting Health, Preventing Disease: Objectives for the Nation is published. This is the nation’s first set of national health objectives, which established a target date of 1990, and included objectives for reducing tobacco use.
1993: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issues a report on the health risks of environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) exposure.
2004: The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) issues a report on exposure to tobacco smoke and involuntary smoking.
2009: Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act is signed and the Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) was established at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Some FDA’s responsibilities under the law include setting performance standards, reviewing premarket applications for new and modified risk tobacco products, requiring new warning labels and establishing and enforcing advertising and promotion restrictions.
2012: New FDA graphic warning labels are required on cigarette packaging designed to encourage cessation and discourage uptake of smoking.
2016: FDA’s regulatory authority is extended to include all tobacco products, including all cigars (including premium ones), hookah tobacco, pipe tobacco, nicotine gels and dissolvables, as well as e-cigarettes.