I know this is off my usual rant list, but you can think of it as my rants broadening out. I am interested in whole, rich, and productive lives. As I suggested in my recent blog here Broken Brains and Genes Cannot Explain Away Our Global Health Problems we are seeing an epidemic in mental and physical health problems, including the massive increases in disability from mental health problems, obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and on.

We need to treat the sources of these difficulties. Although we have made significant progress with Big Tobacco, the job is not done.

My particular specialty is psychological wellbeing. However, psychological wellbeing is embedded in a cultural context. I am dedicating the balance of my career to preaching the gospel of healthy living.

The royal road to living well is living well. Part of that is creating nontoxic environments.

It is in our power, all of us, to take deliberate responsibility for the promotion of environments that support healthy living. This means promoting health in our homes, in our schools, in our communities, in our country, and in the world. Some of these targets are big, but some are no further away than our refrigerator or the corner grocery store.

My pal Tony Biglan at the Oregon Research Institute, along with colleagues Brian Flay, Dennis Embry, and Erwin Sandler published an article recently in the American Psychologist called "The Critical Role of Nurturing Environments for Promoting Human Well-Being." In it, they identify four areas for delberate policy making:

1) these environments minimize biologically and psychologically toxic events.

2) they teach, promote, and richly reinforce prosocial behavior, including self-regulatory behaviors and all of the skills needed to become productive adult members of society.

3) they monitor and limit opportunities for problem behavior.

4) they foster psychological flexibility—the ability to be mindful of one’s thoughts and feelings and to act in the service of one’s values even when one’s thoughts and feelings discourage taking valued action.

The beauty of these is that these ideas can be executed at all of the levels I mentioned.

Today's rant is about taxes, and, yes, about raising taxes. I know, everyone hates taxes, but not all taxes are bad.

A dollar per pack rise in cigarette taxes is a very, very good tax. Even if you are a smoker--with a single exception: This is a bad tax if, and only if, you are a smoker who wants your children to smoke. For the rest of us, this is a good tax.

Over the short term, the tax would reduce the number of new smokers. Over the long term, it would reduce the total number of smokers and with it the crazy price we all pay for smoking. During 2000–2004, cigarette smoking was estimated to be responsible for $193 billion in annual health-related economic losses in the United States (Center for Disease Control, 2012).

California recently tried to pass a dollar per pack increase in cigarette tax. This is good public health policy and good tax policy.

Price does not have much effect on current smoker behavior. Not many would quit if the price went up a buck.

Still, the tobacco industry spent $47,000,000 to buy the California tax plan defeat. Why would the tobacco companies care about this tax so much if it is unlikely to make people quit smoking or even cut down?

Opponents complain that 60% of the taxes will go to government funded research on tobacco. Opponents say this is a bad idea because it will create a government bureaucracy. Perhaps the opponents would like the tobacco companies themselves to do the research. Of course, the tobacco company CEO's all got up in front of congress and to a man stated, for the public record, that they did not think nicotine was addictive. I do not think they are appropriately motivated to find or tell the truth about tobacco.

They do not give a damn about tax policy or how tax dollars are spent. They do not give a damn about the liberty of smokers. They do not care about current smokers at all. Current smokers are already hooked. They provide a nice steady profit. So why do the tobacco companies care?

Big Influence by Parents and Older Siblings

The answer is simple, they want your children. Price has been demonstrated to decrease the number of new smokers, especially children. Higher price means fewer kids will start smoking. 

"A 10% increase in price has been estimated to reduce overall cigarette consumption among adolescents and young adults by about 4%.

Increases in cigarette prices can lead to significant reductions in smoking prevalence by increasing cessation among smokers and reducing smoking initiation among potential young smokers. Each day approximately 3,800 kids smoke their first cigarette and about a 1,000 become daily smokers (CDC, 2012). Although the tax would foster some increased cessation, the main effect is new smoker--young people.

The tobacco companies know this. They know. Their fight here is a fight for new child smokers.

Another claim by opponents was that tax dollars would be lost to nearby states. People would drive to other states to buy cigarettes. Imagining that some of this would happen, notice that driving to another state to purchase cigarettes is only cost effective if someone buy, sty, a month's supply. Again, this is very unlikely to be very young smokers.

Make no mistake, Big Tobacco spent $47,000,000 to defeat this referendum in California in order to insure their next generation of smokers. They want your children to become addicted to cigarettes.

The tobacco companies have been banned from horrendous Joe the Camel type ads where they were shown to be directly marketing to kids. In 1991 a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that Joe the Camel was more recognizable to 5 and 6 year olds than Mickey Mouse! Having been banned from many forms of advertising, keeping the price down is a major strategy to protect the new child smoker market.

Yes, your children are a market, a profit center for big tobacco.

I do not believe that Californians, even the smokers, want their children to smoke. Therefore, I must conclude that California has been fooled by big tobacco. California has led the way in limiting exposure to tobacco. They pioneered nonsmoking zones. These efforts have sprung up around the country and indeed around the world. On my own college campus at the University of Mississippi, we are about to see a campus-wide ban on smoking. In the fall, smokers will be handed cessation information. In the spring they will be handed a ticket.

We have made a lot of progress on smoking. The current number of smokers in the United States is down by about half since the mid-1960's, from 42.4 in 1965 to 19.3 in 2010 (Infoplease, 2012).

If this referendum comes up again, which it certainly will, support the new taxes on cigarettes.

If you smoke and have found it hard to quit, do it for your kids. Do it for your younger brothers and sisters. Research shows that smoking by parents and older siblings has an enormous influence on whether children start smoking.

The War Against Corporate Greed at the Expense of Public Health

If you want to quit, consider the following--What Are the Benefits of Quitting Smoking?

Within 20 minutes of quitting - your blood pressure and pulse rate drop to normal and the temperature of your hands and feet increases to normal.

Within 8 hours of quitting - your blood carbon monoxide levels drop and your blood oxygen levels increase, both to normal levels.

Within 24 hours of quitting - your risk of a sudden heart attack decreases. 

Within 48 hours of quitting - nerve endings begin to regenerate and your senses of smell and taste begin to return to normal.

Within 2 weeks to 3 months of quitting - your circulation improves and walking becomes easier; your lung function increases by up to 30%.

Within 1 to 9 months of quitting - your overall energy typically increases and symptoms like coughing, nasal congestion, fatigue, and shortness of breath improve. You will have fewer illnesses, colds, and asthma attacks. You will gradually no longer be short of breath with everyday activities.

Within 1 year of quitting - your risk of coronary heart disease is half that of someone still using tobacco.

Within 5 years of quitting - your lung cancer death rate decreases by nearly 50% compared to one pack per day smokers; your risk of cancer of the mouth is half that of a tobacco user.

Within 10 years of quitting - your lung cancer death rate becomes similar to that of someone who never smoked; precancerous cells are replaced with normal cells; your risk of stroke is lowered, possibly to that of a nonsmoker; your risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney, and pancreas all go down.

And if you can't seem to quit, keep trying, and support policies that will lessen future smoking rates.

We can all take responsibility for the cultivation of Nurturing Environments. This can be done at all levels. In your own home, you can create a smoke free zone. At your workplace, you can advocate for smoke free zone policies and for smoking cessation outreach. In your communities and states, you can pass laws that lower smoking rates and reduce exposure to second hand smoke.

Namaste Y'all,

Kelly G. Wilson

Co-author of The Wisdom to Know the Difference: An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Workbook for Substance Abuse, 2012, Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong: A Guide to a Life Liberated from Anxiety , 2010, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: The Process and Practice of Mindful Change, 2011, and An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Approach to Mindfulness in Psychotherapy: Mindfulness for Two, 2009. Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Mississippi and Founder of Onelife Education and Training, LLC. Visit on Facebook and follow on Twitter.

Image credit soldiers: orangetuesday / 123RF Stock Photo

Image credit giant cigarette: karimala / 123RF Stock Photo

About the Author

Kelly G. Wilson, Ph.D.

Kelly G. Wilson, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of psychology at the University at Mississippi.

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