Cigarettes are the leading cause of preventable death in Oregon, the United States, and the world.1 In fact, smoking cigarettes kills more Oregonians than alcohol, car accidents, HIV, guns, and illicit drugs…combined.2
How did we get here? The tobacco industry designed cigarettes to be as addictive as possible and has spent billions of dollars advertising cigarettes – and covering up their deadly effects.3 Big Tobacco manipulated tobacco plants to have more nicotine, the addictive chemical in cigarettes. They add chemicals like ammonia to cigarettes to make the nicotine hit the brain faster. They even put in sugar and flavorings like menthol to make the smoke easier to inhale. And the “filters” on cigarettes? They’re designed to make people inhale smoke more deeply into their lungs.
How do we know all this? Tobacco companies were forced to admit they lied for years about their deadly products.4 The courts forced Big Tobacco to hand over a library of evidence that documents how these companies profited from designing such a lethal, addictive product.5
In Oregon, we’ve created smoke-free spaces, funded services for people who smoke to quit, and raised the age for buying cigarettes to 21. These are important steps, but Big Tobacco still pushes cigarettes through advertising and discounts in communities, targeting kids of color to hook the next generation.6
Our challenge: How can Oregon come together to end cigarette addiction for good?
E-cigarettes, also called vape, were created to get around smoke-free laws and health concerns, and keep people addicted to nicotine. Vape companies, many of which are owned by the tobacco industry, say they help people quit smoking. But this is another example of the industry’s lies. Consider these facts:
Because e-cigarettes are not regulated, people don’t know what they’re breathing into their lungs. Vaping isn’t just breathing water vapor; it’s breathing an aerosol filled with tiny chemical particles. Many of these are known to cause cancer.
E-cigarettes contain nicotine — a lot of it in most cases. They are the tobacco industry’s way of keeping people addicted. More than half of Oregon adults who vape also smoke cigarettes.7
E-cigarettes are used far more often by youth to start than by adults to quit.8 They were introduced in sweet flavors and designed to look like USB devices — appealing to young people and easy to hide from parents and teachers. From 2017 to 2019, youth vaping in Oregon went up 80 percent. A recent study showed that youth who vape are three times more likely to start smoking cigarettes than their peers who don’t vape.10
Smokeless doesn’t mean harmless.
The tobacco industry has aggressively marketed pouches and cans of chew and snuff in rural areas for decades. Tobacco companies pitch smokeless tobacco as a safe alternative to cigarettes, but it is not.11 Smokeless tobacco causes cancer of the mouth, esophagus and pancreas. Smokeless tobacco also causes gum disease and tooth loss.12
In rural Oregon, the tobacco industry happily steps up to sponsor civic gatherings and popular sports events. Nicotine, wall-to-wall advertising and tradition combine for a potent blend: One in six young men (age 18-24) in rural Oregon13 use smokeless tobacco.
But smokeless tobacco isn’t limited to rural areas.
Young people, especially, love the sweet-flavored, candy-like varieties. In all, more than 120,000 adult Oregonians used smokeless tobacco in 2017.14