by Daniel K. Duncan
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Is anyone paying attention to the news? Not the headlines about politics and war; I’m talking about some news stories that have to do with the well-being of our kids.
In the past few weeks, we’ve seen several stories — seemingly unrelated — that actually share a common thread. In late August, there was the story about how Big Tobacco secretly has been increasing the nicotine content of cigarettes since 1998, making its deadly product that much more lethal and addictive.
Lethal and addictive to whom? Kids, of course. Children are a prime target of Big Tobacco, mainly because they have to be. If they can’t hook kids to replace the smokers who are dying or quitting, the tobacco companies face serious economic consequences. By increasing the addictiveness of its products, Big Tobacco again has shown its true colors — despite lawsuits, settlements and promises of reform. Life and children be damned; profits reign supreme.
Another news story concerned itself with Big Tobacco’s twin brother: Big Alcohol. A study out of Columbia University stated that 17.5 percent — $22.5 billion — of alcohol industry revenue is attributable to underage drinking.
This complemented an earlier article in the Journal of the American Medical Association that stated, “Half of all money spent on alcohol comes from the pockets of underage and adult excessive drinkers.” The study concluded that “the industry has a compelling financial motive to attempt to maintain or increase rates of underage drinking.”
A few days after that, another story reported that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had denounced the alcohol industry for not abiding by its self-imposed ban on radio advertising to teens, a practice steadfastly denied by the industry.
As Big Tobacco did for decades, Big Alcohol is ready to present good news stats and “facts” that deny they market to youth and that advertising has nothing to do with why kids drink. Yet the industry is every bit as addicted to its profits as an alcoholic is addicted to alcohol. Indeed, it is trapped. Could the industry afford to lose the kinds of profits that genuine social responsibility would bring? What would stockholders say?
It’s not so hard to understand that the children of yesterday are the addicted smokers and problem drinkers of today, and that the children of today are the addicted smokers and problem drinkers of tomorrow. What is hard to understand is why we all are not working more diligently to protect our youth better, especially considering the targets on their foreheads?
Instead, our nation continues to subsidize tobacco growers, resist efforts to protect nonsmokers from toxic smoke and seemingly revel in an increasingly enmeshed social dependency on alcohol.
As a result, we continue to sacrifice to these monster industries our most precious commodity: our youth. Does this make any sense at all? Doesn’t this amount to offering up our own cultural integrity, common sense and intelligence to the chemicals of addiction?
It has been said a community can be judged by how it treats its youth. If we are not willing to better protect our youth from the predation of the tobacco and alcohol industries, perhaps we no longer deserve the privilege of calling ourself the greatest nation on earth.
Daniel K. Duncan is director of community services for the St. Louis chapter of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.