Big Tobacco on trial

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – Despite a U.S. government law suit against cigarette makers, college students say they are unlikely to curb their smoking habits.

After awaiting trial for five years, the Department of Justice brought its case against tobacco companies to court on Sept. 21 for dangerous advertising practices and hiding smoking hazards from the public.

Prosecutors are charging tobacco companies under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, normally reserved for prosecution of organized crime groups, such as the mafia. If the Department of Justice is successful, the suit could yield new guidelines for the industry’s behavior and could potentially change the way tobacco is sold and marketed.

Some college students said while smoking is unhealthy, media attention or cessation programs would not affect their decisions about tobacco use.

“I know smoking’s bad for me but society’s reinforcement of its risks are not enough to make me stop doing it,” said Brian Murphy, 19, of Gainesville, Fla., who said he smokes about five cigarettes per day. “The only way I am going to quit is if I do it myself.”

“I think the ads that work make smokers feel gross or that they will develop physical flaws that relate to aesthetics,” said Jillian Green, 21 of Westwood, Mass. “But the ones that relate to health might not seem real to college students.”

The Harvard School of Public Health’s 2000 College Alcohol study found that nearly half of all college students surveyed used tobacco for over a year. This included students who smoke daily and those who consider themselves “occasional smokers.”

“Essentially, college students are playing with fire, putting themselves at risk of a lifelong addiction to nicotine,” said the study’s lead author Nancy Rigotti, M.D., director of Tobacco Research and Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital, in a press release. “All tobacco products — not just cigarettes — can produce nicotine addiction.”

Public health researchers at the Educational Development Center said there have not been many studies on college students and tobacco use.

“I like cigarettes because they curb my appetite, to be honest,” said a 21-year old female student from Scottsdale, Ariz. who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Smoking helps me keep my figure. I just don’t like that it smells.”

Some students said their smoking habits began prior to college. “Students smoke because they conformed and tried it in high school and eventually got addicted,” said Crystal Zahedi, 22, of Boston, “The people who I know that smoke have been doing it since high school routinely.” Others said they started smoking in social settings. “Last year as a freshman, I liked to go out and drink and then started smoking whenever I drank,” said a 19-year-old male student from New York, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Now, I smoke whenever I go out with friends to bars or parties but you would never see me walking around campus with a butt in my mouth.”

The Department of Justice is seeking $280 billion which it says the tobacco industry earned fraudulently over 50 years of manipulating nicotine levels, targeting teens with multi-billion dollar advertising campaigns, lying about dangers of smoking and manipulating research that states the opposing argument.

Industry officials say paying this amount of money would drive them to bankruptcy.

Copyright c2004 U-WIRE via U-Wire

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