Puffin’ on toilet bowl cleaner
June 5, 2007
Cigarettes contain an ingredient used in toilet bowl cleaners.
The filters on the end are useless.
Tobacco companies have a special interest in getting youths and women to smoke.
Those were some of the facts regarding the tobacco industry thrown at 50 or so seventh-graders by Dr. Jeffrey Wigand, the one-time head of research and development for a tobacco company who famously sounded the alarms on the business’s disregard for the health and safety of consumers.
Wigand is in South Lake Tahoe for a week. His itinerary – 16 presentations at nine schools – is based on arming students in fifth, seventh and ninth grades with facts about the dangers of smoking. On Tuesday, his second day in town, he gave three presentations to South Tahoe Middle School students and a two-hour evening session for about 40 adults in the theater at South Tahoe High School.
Wigand began his presentation to the students with clips and commentary from “The Insider,” a movie based on the tumultuous time when he was agreeing to go public by clearing the smoke on the dangers of smoking.
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“If they were invented today, cigarettes would not be a legal product,” said an on-screen Wigand during “The Insider” clip. The actual Wigand sat on a stool watching the commentary, sometimes nodding, while sipping a Diet Pepsi.
“Do we have our game faces on?” he said at the start of the lecture.
What followed was an orchestrated tour into the strategies of the tobacco company to lure women into lighting up, the ingredients in a cigarette, the anatomy of a Marlboro and the varying nicotine levels in different smoke brands.
“It’s important for you to know this because you can use it,” he said.
Wigand, who taught high school Japanese and chemistry after his stint with Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corp., knew how to engage students in a classroom. The walking encyclopedia sauntered into aisles. The Bronx native spoke with his hands. He made the students laugh and encouraged note-taking.
He said the tobacco industry needs 3,000 new smokers, mostly from the young, to maintain profits. Each year, 440,000 people die in the United States from smoking-related illnesses while the country has to deal with a $240 billion tab for related health-costs, Wigand said.
To help children and teenagers light up, cigarettes have 616 additives such as cocoa, licorice, honey, butter fat and “lots of other stuff” to make them more tasty, Wigand said.
Latest documents from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state cigarette companies are mostly targeting youths 13 to 14 years old, and those as young as 7, Wigand said.
“The industry manipulates children to use tobacco,” he said.
Wigand also gave history lessons. In 1926, the industry wanted to strengthen the number of women smokers so an advertising campaign, with a message of smoking cigarettes makes you thinner by ditching sweets, was born. Cigarettes with a thinner diameter were introduced to facilitate the campaign.
Yet those cigarette brands aimed for females, such as Virginia Slims Ultra Lights and Marlboro Lights, have less nicotine content than say, Marlboro Reds, prompting the smoker to inhale deeper, harder and at a more frequent rate, Wigand said.
The last time a cigarette was a “natural” product was 200 years ago, he said. Tobacco use is 5,000 years old. It was used as a trade commodity for the American colonies.
In 1954, in response to an increasing worry that cigarettes were harmful to health, a filter was added to the tip. It does nothing, Wigand said, who added the tipping paper, such as the orange end of a Marlboro Red, is coated with silicon so it doesn’t stick to a smoker’s lips.
Cigarettes also contain acetone, a key component in fingernail polish remover. Wigand mentioned one experiment where a cotton ball absorbs the smoke from three cigarettes and then it’s placed in a test tube or plastic bag. Give it some time and the laced cotton ball can rub off fingernail polish.
Seventh-grader Savannah Lemons was perplexed at the realization.
“I was really surprised it had acetone in them because I know that it’s very toxic,” she said.
Diana Woodbury, an anti-smoking advocate who became asthmatic while working in smoke-filled businesses in Japan and the United States, supported Wigand’s work in the schools.
“If he can prevent one child from starting to smoke it’s one life saved from a horrible death,” she said.
Top 10 FAQs About Quitting Smoking
Q. Why should I quit?
A. You will live longer and feel better. Quitting will lower your chances of having a heart attack, stroke, or cancer. The people you live with, especially children, will be healthier. If you are pregnant, you will improve your chances of having a healthy baby. And you will have extra money to spend on things other than cigarettes.
Q. What is the first thing I need to do once I’ve decided to quit?
A. You should set a quit date — the day when you will break free of your tobacco addiction. Then, consider visiting your doctor or other health care provider before the quit date. She or he can help by providing practical advice and information on the medication that is best for you.
Q. What medication would work best for me?
A. Different people do better with different methods. You have five choices of medications that are currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration: a non-nicotine pill (bupropion SR), nicotine gum, a nicotine inhaler, a nicotine nasal spray, and a nicotine patch. The gum and patches are available at your local pharmacy, or you can ask your health care provider to write you a prescription for one of the other medications. The good news is that all five medications have been shown to be effective in helping smokers who are motivated to quit.
Q. How will I feel when I quit smoking? Will I gain weight?
A. Many smokers gain weight when they quit, but it is usually less than 10 pounds. Eat a healthy diet, stay active, and try not to let weight gain distract you from your main goal-quitting smoking. Some of the medications to help you quit may help delay weight gain.
Q. Some of my friends and family are smokers. What should I do when I’m with them?
A. Tell them that you are quitting, and ask them to assist you in this effort. Specifically, ask them not to smoke or leave cigarettes around you.
Q. What kinds of activities can I do when I feel the urge to smoke?
A. Talk with someone, go for a walk, drink water, or get busy with a task. Reduce your stress by taking a hot bath, exercising, or reading a book.
Q. How can I change my daily routine, which includes smoking a cigarette with my breakfast?
A. When you first try to quit, change your routine. Eat breakfast in a different place, and drink tea instead of coffee. Take a different route to work.
Q. I like to smoke when I have a drink. Do I have to give up both?
A. It’s best to avoid drinking alcohol for the first 3 months after quitting because drinking lowers your chances of success at quitting. It helps to drink a lot of water and other nonalcoholic drinks when you are trying to quit.
Q. I’ve tried to quit before and it didn’t work. What can I do?
A. Remember that most people have to try to quit at least 2 or 3 times before they are successful. Review your past attempts to quit. Think about what worked — and what didn’t — and try to use your most successful strategies again.
Q. What should I do if I need more help?
A. Get individual, group, or telephone counseling. The more counseling you get, the better your chances are of quitting for good. Programs are given at local hospitals and health centers. Call your local health department for information about programs in your area. Also, talk with your doctor or other health care provider.
Sources: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Cancer Institute
Released by: U.S. Surgeon General David A. Satcher, M.D., in June 2000