July 16, 2007
Daddy was a product of his generation, growing up on a large Kansas ranch in the 1930s. Behind the barn, he smoked his first cigarette at eleven years of age, the initiation of a life-long habit that eventually killed him.
Marlboro Man…Lucky Strike…the sign of “cool”, a cigarette perched on the lips of cowboys and movie stars…kids were naturally born on a path to become smokers, and in 1955, the cigarette could claim 57% per cent of the male population as “users.”
Undaunted by the social acceptance and prevalence of smoking, in the 50s, health workers launched a campaign to begin an education of the public to the dangers of tobacco. In 7th grade science, I watched movies of smoking machines depositing tar into glass tubes. And in spite of denials from the tobacco industry, news reports began to link smoking with heart disease and cancer.
Progress was slow. By 1965, 52% of males were still smokers. Ten years of advertising for change, and still over half of American men 18 years of age and older continued to smoke. One might have considered the campaign doomed to failure.
Daddy was evidence of this failure. In spite of his analytical nature and the mounting evidence against cigarettes, he remained entrenched as a smoker. His sister died of emphysema…my Dad continued to light up. My uncle underwent surgery for lip cancer…my Dad continued to smoke…two packs a day.
My sister and I went off to college, non-smokers both of us. Eventually, my mother gained a concession from Dad. He would at least move his smoking out-of-doors, onto the back patio. But elevators, restaurants and offices…those were a different matter.
One night at the dinner table, he recounted the insult of being asked by someone not to smoke in the elevator. “Can you believe that?” he asked. “This is a free country. They don’t have any right to tell me what to do! If I want to smoke, I’ll smoke.”
The Marlboro Man eventually died of smoking. So did my dad. Joe Camel Cool was sent to prison. The tobacco industry finally caved in to the evidence. Warnings from the Surgeon General are legislated on every pack of cigarettes. And Turner Classics have been edited to remove cigarettes from the lips of Bogey and Bacall.
But wouldn’t you know it. The campaign to rid our country from smoking is doomed to fail. In 2004, one fifth of the total population, male and female, continued to smoke. In the prior year, 48% of young adults 18-25 had smoked, and during their lifetime, 69% of them tried this deadly habit. Failed. We are doomed.
We might as well admit that smoking is a temptation that will entice young people. We may as well face failure straight in the face and give up. Let’s not hurt their self-esteem. We certainly don’t want to make them hide a secret habit. Since kids are going to smoke anyway, let’s teach them to choose their cigarettes wisely. Smart smoking…if they are going to ignore our warnings and light up, let’s at least teach them “safe smoking.”
Ridiculous? Then consider the consistent doom and gloom of “sexperts” who chastise health educators who want the best for our youth and have set their expectations on creating change.
Abstinence education? Doomed! Kids are going to have sex anyway. Give up. Let’s teach them to enjoy sex. We don’t want them to hide their sexual encounters. We don’t want the facts to scare them…let’s let them believe the myth of “safe sex.”
Doom and gloom? This is the foundation of the push to legitimize sex for teens as an acceptable and “safe” behavior. They’re going to do “it” anyway.
But are they? Data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggest that the fear of increasing rates of teenage sexual behavior may be unfounded. For example, teenagers seem to be waiting longer to have intercourse. The percentage of 12th-grade U.S. students who reported having had intercourse declined from 66.7% in 1991 to 60.5% in 2001.
This six percent decrease is all the more incredible when you consider that these teens live in a sex-saturated culture that refuses to deglamorize casual random sex. It is miraculous when you consider the prevalence of “sexperts” who continue to promise “saferrrrrrrrrr sex” as the follow up to “safe sex” which has been thoroughly discredited by science.
Doomed to fail? If history is any teacher, the surest way to lead our youth to failure is to teach them they have no other alternative.
Doomed to fail? If teachers believe teens are doomed to fail and build an educational program founded on failure as an expectation, what choice will our teens have?
Failure as an expectation? Then we are indeed doomed.