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Tuesday, Oct. 3
The Indiana Daily Student

academics & research

Indiana residents reportedly top tobacco consumers

With her straight, steel grey tresses, ruffled blouse and black jacket, Cathy Wyatt, an ex-smoker, now looks the picture of polished health.

Last week, the United States Surgeon General released a report chronicling the past 50 years of the cigarette in America.

And while some states have started to withdraw from the trend of smoking, the Centers for Disease Control say a quarter of Hoosiers are still lighting up.

Wyatt, health educator and community outreach at IU Health Center, said the grip of the habit can be traced far back into the user’s mind.

“Most of the people we interview will tell you, ‘I remember my first cigarette,’” Wyatt said. “They’ll tell you where they were, who they were with and where they got it.”

After 26 years of living tobacco-free, Wyatt can still remember her first taste of tobacco when she took it from her father’s ashtray.

The phenomenon of tobacco use within the U.S. is as old as the nation itself.

Grown as a cash crop in the Southern colonies, the commodity soon became a source of economic profit for the developing country.

Despite its deep historical roots, the recent wave of restrictions regarding tobacco use renewed the conversation about the harmful effects of tobacco and its place in mainstream culture.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Indiana remains one of the top consumers of tobacco.

In 2011, more than 25 percent of the state population was reported to smoke cigarettes.

Wyatt identified the undereducated and impoverished as populations among the most at-risk of using tobacco.

“The tobacco industry knows where to target populations, where there are no policies,” Wyatt said.

Since 1965, the U.S. government mandates all cigarette boxes contain a health-warning label to advise consumers of the product’s harmful effects.

Today, the American Lung Association recognizes thousands of chemicals and 70 carcinogens — cancer-causing agents — found within one cigarette.

IU sophomore Maxwell Mills does not consume tobacco, but said he understands firsthand the effect of tobacco on its users.

“I’ve now had three members of my grandfather’s generation diagnosed with cancer,” Mills said. “Two of them have passed away.”

Among the members of Mills’ family diagnosed with cancer was his grandfather.

After finding the motivation to quit through his grandchildren, Mills’ grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer years after living without tobacco.

“A big thing that did it was having three grandchildren, influenced by our parents, run up to him like, ‘Okay, please, we love you. We don’t want you to get hurt,’” Mills said.

“We took his cigarettes from him, flushed them down the toilet or buried them in the backyard.”

His grandfather’s cancer is now in remission.

Despite its adverse effects on the body, tobacco continues to attract potential consumers to its products.

Wyatt said she believes the motives prompting individuals to use tobacco are individual to each consumer.

Daniel Benge, a senior who uses tobacco, views the broader appeal of the product as part of his motive behind consuming the substance.

“It has the image of being rebellious or the outsider,” Benge said. “There are moments to it where it’s just glamorous. It’s just sleek.”

Benge concedes that media portrayals of tobacco use have also played a role in glamorizing his perception of the substance.

He said he began consuming tobacco in high school after his best friend offered him a cigarette at his Fourth of July party.

“I thought it was okay,” Benge said.

“I didn’t really think one way or another. But then I started hanging out with friends who tended to smoke. Then, I quickly developed a habit. Then, everyone else seemed to quit and I’m the only one who hasn’t yet.”

In recent years, anti-tobacco activism has emerged in mainstream media to combat the phenomenon and communicate the harmful effects of tobacco use.

However, both Benge and Mills consider the activism to fall short of communicating to its targeted youth audience effectively.

“What happens when people are shown an extremely scary situation saying, ‘This is you,’ a defense mechanism kicks in and we start denying because we’re so afraid psychologically, we put up a wall against it,” Benge said.

For Wyatt, the new wave of anti-tobacco activism must continue educating to quell the
influence of tobacco companies.

“I think we have a powerful industry on the opposite side, fighting with everything against what we would try to do,” Wyatt said. “They have a lot of money behind them. Anything we’re seeing that’s coming out right now and all the efforts are so much needed.”

In 2008, University administration implemented a tobacco-free policy across all IU campuses prohibiting the use of tobacco products on University property.

But Mills feels the University policy has not been effective in achieving its intended purpose.

“I remember walking out of a classroom yesterday and right outside the door, five feet to the left, somebody was sitting in the lawn smoking,” Mills said. “Its hard to find an area where you wouldn’t see someone smoking.”

The tobacco-free policy also created tobacco cessation services at the IU Health Center in Bloomington.

Students and employees have access to professional support equipped with nicotine supplements at no extra charge.  

After 51 patients entered the program last fall, Wyatt said she hopes the service will continue to expand, providing participants with a way to overcome their use of tobacco permanently.

“This addiction is considered absolutely one of the hardest,” Wyatt said. “I say this to myself, as an ex-smoker, the mantra I put over myself was if I never smoke the first one again, I never have to quit again.”

Follow reporter Carmen Heredia Rodriguez on Twitter @caheredia21.

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