Health & Science

Texas Tobacco Summit Aims for ‘Tobacco-Free Generation’

Rate of teenagers smoking down, but some say it’s still too high.

To see how ubiquitous smoking used to be, just watch an episode from the popular series Mad Men.

Characters like Don Draper smoke in the office, at restaurants and in the bedroom.

Here the advertising directors talk with tobacco executives about a new media campaign – and the growing public concern about smoking.

“I just don’t know what we have to do to make these government interlopers happy. They tell us to make a safer cigarette. We do it. And then suddenly, that’s not good enough!

Might as well be living in Russia … 

Damn straight!”

But cigarettes aren’t safe, which is why those government interlopers intervened fifty years ago.

In 1964, the U.S. Surgeon General announced that smoking clearly causes lung cancer and death – and that the government should do more to prevent it.

Lewis Foxhall says there’s still more to do.

He’s with the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

It’s hosting a Texas Tobacco Summit in Houston this week.

“It’s really a matter of kind of reinvigorating ourselves and renewing our efforts to help push for a tobacco-free generation and to help all the rest of our citizens here in Texas and in the country help them be rid of this serious health.”

The good news is that fewer people are smoking. About 18 percent of people in the U.S. smoke, or 43 million people.

Foxhall says that’s still too many.

“We really ought to shoot for a having a generation of kids who are never exposed to tobacco. We know these are very harmful things, we know it’s addictive, and we know that half of the people who start smoking as kids are going to die prematurely.”

The rate of teenage smokers has fallen to the lowest in two decades to about 15 percent.

Foxhall says that may sound like a low number, but it represents thousands of young people exposed to unnecessary risk.

I asked him about what could happen to smoking and public health in the next fifty years.

“Do you think that say 50 years from now or maybe even sooner we could see cigarettes just not even on the market?”

“I think if we all recognize the serious harm that’s done by these products, we’ll do the right thing. It’s entirely possible it could happen quickly if we want to.”

Foxhall says it depends on politics and the will of the public.


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Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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