Last set of q and a for now

Posted by pamela mccoll on Sunday, April 1, 2012


1)      Rango, Babar, Madeline, Curious George, Three Little Bears, Frosty the Snowman. They are amongst many popular children’s tales that reference or have been illustrated to reference smoking. Do the copyright owners of these works have a responsibility to sanitize their stories to rid them of any smoking references?  


 It is a question of doing what you believe is important and what you believe will make a difference – even if it is a small thing.  I believe we all have a role to play and we do have a say.  On this past St. Patrick’s Day I visited a bookstore and noticed a handsome child’s picture book which seemed appropriate to mark the holiday. On closer inspection I found that the main character was smoking on the book jacket as well as in the text. It was beautifully illustrated but not something I would buy.  I am not out to criticize other books and I’m not going to name the book in question. I would rather draw attention to the wealth of great literature that doesn’t pose a threat and keeps our children one step further out of harm’s way.  I think it is helpful if preview books before offering them to a child.


2)      Since the Surgeon General’s warning in 1964 that smoking is linked to a risk of cancer – nearly 50 years ago – how far have we come to decrease the number of smokers?

The World Health Organization reports that the estimate is as high as one billion for the number of people who will die a premature tobacco related death in this century.   The overall world consumption is so high it will impact everyone unless things change.   The frightening aspect of this for me is that there is a segment of the population that believe “no one smokes” any more. I hear it all the time. What really amazes me is that these very people who are saying “no one smokes” then mentions in passing they have an adult child who smokes.  It is a very peculiar situation.   I worry the most for young women who are smoking and are looking towards motherhood and are struggling with quitting and for those who are smoking marijuana and tobacco on a regular basis. The risk to your health goes from a 50% chance of dying a premature for nicotine use alone to 80% if you do both. Add the risk factor of birth control which is contraindicated if you smoke nicotine and the situation worsens.  


3)      May 31 is the World Health Organization’s No Tobacco Day. It is celebrating its 25th year. How can a 24-hour ban on smoking help some people quit?  Any effort that draws light to the real situation of nicotine use and what can be done to educate children about its associated risks are worthy.


4)      You currently host a smoking cessation online peer group at How difficult is it to get a smoker to quit and to stay away for good? Why is preventing our youth from starting the killer habit so important?   Not starting is the key as this is the most addictive drug on the planet. It takes only a couple of cigarettes to wire the human brain for this addiction.  Millions upon millions of people have quit smoking unaided and remained nicotine free. It is doable and is both a physical and psychological challenge. The physical withdrawal period for nicotine is 72 hours but the psychological tricks this drug plays can be relentless.  I blog about smoking cessation on my website as well at   If I had one thing to say about smoking cessation I would ask people to stop telling smokers how hard it is to quit as I do not think it is helpful.  I think the best thing you can offer a person wishing to stop smoking is to framing smoking as drug addiction and not as a personality flaw.  If a person can see it as an external force working on them they can push back. Obviously this is a very expansive topic and beyond the scope of this conversation but a conversation I am always willing to have with an audience of want to be quitters.


5)      Your dad was a smoker. When you were 18, he set the house on fire after falling asleep with a lit cigarette. How did that experience change your views on smoking?

 I grew up in the Madmen era, everyone smoked – or so it seemed. I smoked as a teenager but luckily was able to stop in time to have my children in my twenties and I never went back to it.  I consider

it unimaginable that I would ever smoke. My children have never smoked.  I had my children in yoga at any early age and I think that helped. In yoga it is all about moving with the breath and there is something profoundly contradictory about smoking and doing yoga.  I see people smoking after yoga and I think they have yet to find the true gift of yoga – perhaps they are just doing acrobatics.


6)      Do most adults realize all of the influences on our children regarding smoking via news media, movies, books, television, games, and advertising?    Nicotine use is a legal adult activity and it interesting how we don`t like to put limits on media. I was in New York in May 2011 when Central Park went smoke-free. The ads in the papers that day placed for Camel Snus:

NYC SMOKERS RISE ABOVE THE BAN. SMOKERS, SWITCH TO SMOKE-FREE CAMEL SNUS AND RECLAIM THE WORLD’S GREATEST CITY.  SHARE YOUR SUPPORT FOR TOBACCO FREEDOM AT … BREAK FREE LOGO WITH A CAMEL.  WARNING: THIS PRODUCT CAN CAUSE GUM DISEASE AND TOOTH LOSS.   I called the American Dental Association and asked them if they were going to respond in USA Today and they said that they didn’t have the funds to fight back.    We don’t necessarily have to fight back but we can tune out but first we have to tune in.


The tobacco industry at last reports (2006) spends $12.49 billion (over 34 million a day) to promote and advertise their products.  Some of it is dismissed but it has an effect that no one can compete with. The tobacco industry outspends tobacco prevention 20 to 1.

In 1999, the first year after the Master Settlement Agreement, the tobacco companies spent a record $.84 billion on advertising and promotions, an increase of $1.5 billion and the largest one year increase since the US Federal Trade Commission began tracking tobacco-industry marketing expenditures in 1970. 


I collect images of Santa smoking on ads, in stationary Christmas cards; it is fascinating where I find it. I also keep scrapbooks of old tobacco ads I come across – one of my favorites is

“Blow in her Face and she will follow you anywhere”– No one would dare to run that ad now.



7)      How should one teach children – and at what age – about the dangers of nicotine addiction?


By not providing examples of smoking as just a normal activity that is acceptable.  It has been shown that good or bad characters depicted as smoking have the same influential effect on kids. It is the normalization of smoking that is the risk. That Santa just merely shows up and casually gets away with smoking in the middle of the Moore`s living room is not okay. If it was a classic old aunt who smoked a cigar would it be okay or would she be asked to use the porch. Normalizing smoking use is a subtle but powerful marketing strategy. Interesting to note that they didn`t have the Grinch smoking, it would have been too obvious and the best strategy that the tobacco industry has to keep their market share is to play the elephant in the living room trick – only this time Santa isn`t playing along.  I understand from my last communication with the North Pole that the elves have a tweet out to the Leprechauns to bring them on board and butt out.

Tags: surgeon general's report on youth and smoking