Surgeon General Warning on Tobacco Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Warning Labels

Not even 50 years ago, many people felt skeptical about the hazards of cigarette smoking. Although increasing numbers of studies showed that some connection existed between tobacco and lung and heart ailments, questions still remained about the true effects on health. In 1964, however, the United States Surgeon General Luther Terry confronted 200 media reporters in a State Department auditorium for two hours and completely changed the course of history. For the first time, the American government made it official: Smoking causes lung cancer. How much of an impact did this warning and other warnings to come by the Surgeon General and additional interested parties in the future alter the numbers of people smoking nationwide? The results are not too promising.

After the Surgeon General's first announcement, there was an immediate reaction. At this time, about 46% of people smoked in the U.S. When Americans heard the Surgeon General's words of warning, they decreased cigarette consumption by 20%. In addition, the number of individuals actually smoking fell as much as 30%. Research found that the vast majority of smokers believed their habit would harm their health. However, the reaction did not last long. The following year, more than 42% of adults were still smoking. This was despite the fact that the 1965 Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act required U.S. Surgeon General's warnings on all cigarette packs (Bowman).

Congress twice strengthened the labeling requirement. First, in 1969, it stipulated "Warning: The Surgeon General Has Determined that Cigarette Smoking is Dangerous to your Health," a significant upgrade from the 1965 "may be hazardous" wording. Next, in 1984, Congress went further and required that four different warnings be rotated. Each warning would be preceded by the phrase "Surgeon General's Warning.": 1) Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema and May Complicate Pregnancy; 2) Quitting Smoking Now Greatly Reduces Serious Risks to Your Health; 3) Smoking by Pregnant Women May Result in Fetal Injury, Premature Birth and Low Birth Weight; and 4) Cigarette Smoke Contains Carbon Monoxide" (Derthick,15).

Do smokers feel they are at risk when seeing these labels? Study results conflict. Some researchers have found that smokers overestimate the health risks of smoking. Such results challenge the belief that people begin and continue smoking in large part because they do not accept the risks. Other scholars, however, who use different questions to measure risk, conclude that smokers either accurately estimate or underestimate their risks (Weinstein, 135). Such conflicting reports do not come as a surprise. It is often found that research results will vary significantly depending on a number of different factors.

It is understood, however, that the majority of smokers clearly do acknowledge some risk, but they minimize the size of that risk and show a tendency to believe that the risk applies more to others than themselves. Bottom line: People do not want to believe that they will be the one impacted. Instead, it will be the guy/gal next door.

The findings of Romer and Jamieson are not any more positive. They looked at studies that researched how anticigarette advertising counteracts the favorable images of smoking pushed by the tobacco industry. They stated, " ... even if anticigarette advertising increases perceived risk, the overwhelming influence of tobacco industry advertising and promotion acts to increase favorable images and feelings associated with smoking. These images and feelings then reduce the perception of risk."

Levy adds to these grim statistics. He states that despite the mass media's extensive coverage of the findings of the U.S. Surgeon General and other research, not too many people (only 16% according to an American Cancer Society survey) believe that there is a correlation between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. This can be the result of a number of different factors. Perhaps the mind rejects the message or, never receives it. In the past 10 years, over 100 billion cigarettes have been sold domestically. Decreases in smoking consumption have only declined twice in two years since 1935: 1953 and 1954, the years following the publicity given the cancer studies. As soon as the tobacco industry began a campaign regarding the reduced risks of filtered cigarettes, the tide changed once…

Sources Used in Document:

References Cited

Bowman, Lee. "Potomac Watch: 40 years ago, government linked smoking to cancer."

Scripps Howard News Service, January 10, 2004. 31. May 2005. http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/national/156042_pot10.html

Eckman, B, & S. Goldberg. "The viability of the Marlboro Man among the 18-24 segment." Bates no. 204462266-2024462292., 8, 1992.

Geoffrey Fong. "UW Researcher to get U.S. Grant to study Warning Labels." 31 May, 2005. http://www.adm.uwaterloo.ca/infonews/release/2002/153%20Cigarette%20warning%20labels%20studied,%20July%2024,%202002.html

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