Monday, July 28, 2014

Rewarding People for Playing Dumb

On January 11th of this year the Surgeon General’s Office celebrated the 50th anniversary of the initial report linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer.  Since then they have issued 32 tobacco-related reports and warnings emphasizing the dangers of smoking and tobacco use in general.  Joining them has been virtually every medical professional and fitness program.  No one advocates smoking; everyone encourages not smoking; most insurance companies, health and life, charge a penalty to tobacco users, reflecting their exposure to increased risk of sickness and death.  You would have to be living under a rock to have missed the message – or not!

The news this month includes a story about young adults who are misinformed about the dangers posed by tobacco and hookahs.  As cigarette use continues to decline, hookah smoking is on the rise.  “Hookah smoking can be just as dangerous as cigarettes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, [a new UCLA] study found that many young adults believe the water pipes are a safe alternative to cigarettes.”  More than half believed that the water or the fruit flavor filtered out the bad chemicals or that they used a different kind of tobacco. 

Computer- and Internet-savvy young adults need only take a quick trip to the CDC website to get accurate information.  “Using a hookah to smoke tobacco poses serious health risks to smokers and others exposed to the smoke from the hookah.”  Beneath this headline are more than a dozen bullet points specifying the dangers.  Is this a case of sheer laziness?  More likely it’s related to the societal habit of accepting evidence from family, friends, social media or the press when it reinforces a desirable belief and disregarding even expert advice when it challenges those beliefs .  Like resistant teens, they don’t want to hear it and turn it off.  Unfortunately society not only practices and endorses this behavior; we actively reward it.

Consider the case, also this month, of a Florida jury awarding punitive damages of over $23 billion “to the estate of Michael Johnson Sr., who died in 1996 from lung cancer after years of chain smoking [cigarettes].”  The attorneys for the family contend that this will stop Big Tobacco from lying to consumers, or at least make them think twice before they continue to lie.  They must be on guard knowing that some juries will believe any fairytale as long as it give them a chance to favor the little guy against the big, evil advertisers.

How can anyone pretend to be so stupid or uninformed as to not know that smoking, especially chain smoking is bad for you?  Cigarettes and other tobacco use causes cancer.   Remember, we have known this for over 50 years.  That smoking was not a particularly healthy choice was known for many years before that.  How can juries be convinced that people who smoke are not consciously putting themselves at risk?  It would be laughable if it were not so scary.  It’s fortunate that some big advertiser is not telling people that jumping off cliffs is perfectly safe.  We might find ourselves reading about people lying dead at the bottom of cliffs with their relatives suing (and winning) exorbitant amounts to stop the lying.  If you want to talk about victim mentality, a shortfall in responsibility, this is a good place to start.

With this mindset in our society, why should we expect those young adults who socialize in the hookah bars to make better decisions?  It is apparently not their job to investigate their assumption about the safety of this different delivery method for their tobacco.  It must be up to the Surgeon General, the CDC or the hookah bars themselves to warn them over and over, and when they choose to ignore the warnings and continue the destructive behavior, they or their survivors get to blame and even sue someone else.

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