Thank You For Not Smoking!
Dear Straight Talk: Trying to quit smoking? Forget it! The trick is not starting. Leroy and Dee were heavy smokers who knew this. They told their sons at a young age that they put $600 apiece [equal to $3850 today] in an account to receive when they graduated high school in 1969 if they never smoked one cigarette. They might have both tried one, but never to their parent's knowledge and they both collected their money. They never did start smoking. Almost every smoker starts before 18. Most kids aren't rewarded for not smoking, only threatened punishment for starting, which heightens excitement and peer approval. If kids had guaranteed money at graduation for not smoking, it would be a game-changer for American smoking. I think Bill Gates could fund this one. —John Snider, Cottonwood, Calif
Editor's Note: A friend leased a beautiful new all-electric Nissan Leaf last weekend. The cash incentives amounted to over $10,000, along with carpool-lane stickers and tax advantages. People are lining up to kick their petrol addiction with these incentives in place. And many are going home to their newly-solarized home (also installed with huge incentives), and plugging their car into power made by the sun. These incentives are driving the rapid rush from fossil fuels, not the fact that mature adults have KNOWN our carbon footprint has been deleteriously affecting our health for many years. My point is that incentives have been used forever (by both savvy parents and savvy governments) to motivate positive behaviors.
Incentivizing "never starting" nicotine is an idea bright as cars running on solar. Stop polluting the world, stop polluting ourselves. I'm grateful to print John Snider's letter and bring this idea to half a million readers. I'm also grateful to the panelists for sharing a range of honest viewpoints.
Why single out nicotine, not soda pop or candy bars? It's the number-one killer, that's why. It's preventable. It stinks. It affects others through second-hand smoke. It's one of the most addictive drugs known, more addictive than heroin, and our kids are most vulnerable. In studied 12-13-year-olds, many show signs of addiction within days of their first cigarette. Need more reasons?
Every day 3,200 U.S. teenagers light up for the first time and almost two-thirds of them get hooked. It's the one pesky juvenile habit that most teens don't outgrow. Anybody who is or was a smoker knows how difficult it is to quit. In a compendium study of people trying to quit various substances (with no help from medicines), it was found that about 18% were able to quit drinking, more than 40% were able to quit opiates or cocaine, but only 8% were able to quit smoking.
Right now, 90% of kids start smoking in high school, 9% start from age 18-26, and only 1% start after age 26 when the adult brain has fully kicked in. (Perhaps it takes a juvenile brain to feel invincible enough to think you can casually smoke and not get addicted — it has also been postulated that juveniles are more susceptible to nicotine addiction then adults.)
I'd love to see a city sponsor this "Thank You For Not Smoking" reward campaign so results can be tracked. While the reward might result in an uptick of kids who start AFTER graduating high school (now I can finally smoke!), I doubt the numbers would be significant. Why? Because the three driving factors, peer pressure, invincibility, and the need to rebel against parental authority all drop off tremendously after high school.
The best time to introduce kids to the campaign (not that it couldn't work otherwise), is when they are young, like Leroy and Dee did for their kids. I would say age 8-9 is a good age for children to "pre-decide" how they see themselves handling all kinds of big future decisions. By age 12, quite a few have had their fist puff.
CVS Health kicked their tobacco habit by removing all tobacco products from their shelves nationwide on October 1 of this year, a move that shocked the retail world. As CVS said, "It's the right thing to do." I couldn't agree more. No doubt it will prove to be a savvy business move, too.
As today's numbers show, providing cash incentives to teens to not smoke is also a savvy business move. At whatever level, family, district, city, county, state or nation, the savings are huge. Hopefully it will be coming soon, to a school district near you! —Lauren
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