TEEN SMOKING: Minority Use Up Sharply
The first government report "to focus on the smoking habits of racial and ethnic groups shows that" while adult use is declining, "it has begun to rise among minority teenagers, creating a 'time bomb' for minority populations," the Los Angeles Times reports (Rubin, 4/28). Surgeon General David Satcher, whose office compiled the report, said the findings "threaten to reverse significant declines in the incidence of cancer. The New York Times reports that the study "afforded President Clinton the perfect opportunity to renew his call for comprehensive tobacco legislation" (Stolberg, 4/28).
The report focuses on tobacco use among all four major U.S. ethnic minorities: African Americans, American Indian/Alaskan Natives, Asian American/Pacific Islanders and Hispanics. According to the report, cigarettes are a major cause of death and disease in all four groups, particularly black men, whose lung cancer rates are 50% higher than white men. While minority teen smoking rates are lower than that of whites, they have increased sharply in the 1990s, particularly among blacks, with smoking among black teens increasing 80% over the last three years. The report notes that these findings are especially significant in that these population groups may comprise half of the U.S. population by 2050 (HHS release, 4/27).
The Good Doctor
The Detroit Free Press reports that this is the first time in the 24-year history of the surgeon general's annual smoking report that it focused on young minorities (Thomma, 4/28). At a White House ceremony with President Clinton, Satcher said, "We are witnessing the first steps of a potentially tragic reversal for the health of American minorities. ... If tobacco use continues to increase among minority adolescents, we can expect severe health consequences to begin to be felt in the early part of the next century" (HHS release, 4/27). "This new report leaves no doubt that cigarette smoking impairs and kills people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. It is my hope that this new report will help the American public to better understand how tobacco is holding hostage the hopes for a better life for millions of our four major ethnic minority groups," Satcher also said yesterday ("NewsHour," PBS, 4/27).
Clinton Launches Another Attack
The New York Times reports that after his remarks, "Satcher then presented the 332-page tome to the president, who wasted no time in denouncing the tobacco industry for" its advertising schemes. Gesturing at nearly three dozen children behind him, Clinton said, "These are the replacement smokers of the advertisers' strategy, but these are our children and we can't replace them" (4/28). CNN's Wolf Blitzer reported, "President Clinton came out swinging against the tobacco industry, and those members of Congress fighting the tobacco settlement" ("Inside Politics," 4/27). The president called for bipartisanship in passing tobacco legislation, "[p]raising Republicans in the audience on the White House South Lawn" and saying "he has no interest in quarreling over details as long as both sides agree on the larger goal of curbing youth smoking" (Harris, Washington Post, 4/28).
Republicans continued their criticism of Clinton's leadership on the issue. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) said, "He's provided lots of rhetoric, lots of talk. And he's not shown any real courage" (Thomma, Philadelphia Inquirer, 4/28). Blitzer noted that Lott "blames the president, and especially the vice president, for the current impasse over legislation." Lott: "Al Gore is out there wanting to just search and destroy and attack the overall tobacco problem, even though he and his family contributed to it over the years." But CNN's Blitzer reported, "White House officials say they're confident they can still work out a deal. They predict House Republicans, who've been watching the polls and are up for re-election this year, will be willing to break ranks with their leadership if necessary."
Tobacco Industry Response
CNN's Blitzer reported, "The tobacco industry denies its advertising targets young people." Brown & Williamson's Brennan Dawson said, "The fact is that kids smoke because their friends smoke, because the people around them smoke. It's not tobacco advertising, it's not prices. It has everything to do with social trends" ("Inside Politics," 4/27).