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To make teens quit smoking, the FDA shows the dark side

Fifth Marlboro Man dies of lung disease

Published: Friday, Feb. 14, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT
An undated photo, courtesy of Susan Lawson, shows Eric Lawson, who portrayed the rugged Marlboro man in cigarette ads during the late 1970s. Lawson, 72, died Jan. 10, 2014, at his home in San Luis Obispo, Calif., of respiratory failure due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, according to his wife, Susan Lawson.

Eric Lawson was the fifth Marlboro Man to die of cancer, the disease triggered by the deadly product he promoted for years. Like other Marlboro Men, Mr. Lawson, who died last month, was a willing shill for the multi-billion-dollar tobacco industry.

Fifty years ago, the first surgeon general’s report on smoking and its effects on health fingered cigarettes as the major culprit in escalating rates of lung cancer and heart disease. With an estimated 40 percent of Americans smoking at the time, more credence was given to the seductive Marlboro Man ads than to doctors who sounded the alarm on the dangers of cigarettes.

Today smoking rates have fallen to 18 percent among adults. Decades of devastating cancer rates and heart disease have convinced people that the Marlboro Men and the industry they served were deceiving us.

Still, 44 million Americans, including 6 million teenagers, remain hooked.

Young people are especially susceptible to the lure of cigarette advertising. That’s why the Food & Drug Administration, with its new mandate to regulate cigarettes, is launching a $115 million anti-smoking campaign aimed at children. The ads will appear on radio and TV, in print and social media.

The messages don’t rehash arguments about the cancer risks of smoking because too many teens believe they’re invincible. Instead, the FDA decided to use appeals that showcase the deleterious effects of smoking on teeth, skin and body.

The vanity of the moment means a lot more to teenagers than what might happen to their lungs after decades of smoking. If the campaign gets them to quit or not start at all, it will have been a battle worth waging.

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