CIGARETTES: Cracking down on the 'deadliest legal product known to man'

A reading outlines the new Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act and provides information about teenage smoking and its effects. A writing assignment, discussion questions and subjects for further inquiry follow

To the Teacher:

Efforts to stiffen tobacco regulation became reality this June when Congress passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. The provisions of this act are the main subject of the reading, which also includes information about teenage smoking and its effects. A writing assignment, discussion questions and subjects for further inquiry follow.

Student Reading

About half of the teenagers who smoke their first cigarette today and go on to become regular smokers will eventually die from smoking. The World Health Organization is the source of this unpleasant information.
Every day about 3,600 kids between 12 and 17 years of age smoke their first cigarette, and an estimated 1,100 of them will become regular smokers, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported in 2008.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on June 12, 2009, the very day that Congress approved new tobacco regulations, that President Obama himself has "a struggle with nicotine addiction" every day. The president said the new regulations would "protect our kids and improve our public health."
The new law is called The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act and gives the Food and Drug Administration "regulatory authority over the deadliest legal product known to man-cigarettes...In a country that regulates everything from lipstick to beer, how could it possibly make sense to take a hands-off attitude with a product that kills some 400,000 people a year and to which a fifth of the population is addicted." (Joe Nocera, business columnist for the New York Times, 6/20/09)
The new law:
  • forbids the tobacco industry from claiming that their products are "light," "mild," or "low tar."
  • bans tobacco products sweetened by herbs or spices such as strawberry, grape, orange, cinnamon or vanilla. (However, menthol is exempted until 2011, when a new study of its potential harmfulness is to be completed.)
  • bans some chemicals in tobacco products but does not totally ban addictive nicotine.
  • forbids tobacco advertising inside of 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds.
  • forbids any tobacco-related sponsorship of sports and entertainment events.
  • requires new warning labels by 2012 covering 50 percent of the front and rear and use of capital letters for the word "WARNING" as well as "color graphics depicting the negative health consequences of smoking" 
  • allows tobacco product advertising to be in adults-only facilities
  • forbids tobacco product vending machines except in places restricted to adults
"I think we are today at the last gasp of the tobacco industry's efforts to protect their profits at the expense of the health and lives of the American people and to get children to take up this habit," said Rep. Henry Waxman, Democrat of California. He was the sponsor of the bill and chairman of a 1994 hearing during which tobacco industry executives claimed that nicotine was not addictive.
Philip Morris USA, the largest American tobacco company, supported the new legislation as being tough but fair. Other tobacco companies opposed it, as did some Republicans who blamed Democrats for interfering in private business. Nevertheless, the bill got support from members of both parties, and was passed by a vote of 307 to 97 in the House and 79-17 in the Senate.

For writing

Give students 20 minutes to reflect on and write about smoking. For those who smoke, the questions are: Why did you start smoking? Why do you continue? What would it take to get you to quit? For those who do not smoke, the questions are: Why don't you smoke? Why do you think other teenagers do?
Tell students that you will not collect or grade papers. Each is private, a conversation with oneself and intended to stimulate thinking about one's own behavior. Students can decide for themselves if they want to share their paper with others. 

For discussion

1. Why do some teenagers smoke? What makes you think so?
2. Why do many teenagers continue to smoke into adulthood even though they know that smoking causes lung and throat cancer, emphysema, heart disease, and other illnesses that are often fatal?
3. Consider the new regulations. Is each one fair? Why or why not? What do you think is the purpose of each new regulation? How effective do you think it will be in preventing smoking and why?
4. Why do you suppose that Congress did not simply ban the sale of cigarettes? (Perhaps Congress had in mind the ban on alcohol sales and its effects during the 1920s and early 1930s.)
5. Would you add any regulations? What and why?

For inquiry

Tobacco and smoking offer multiple possibilities for independent and small-group student inquiries, including on the subjects listed below. As a starting point, require students to frame two or three questions and discuss them with the teacher before an inquiry begins. For suggestions on good question-asking, see "Thinking Is Questioning" in the high school section of TeachableMoment.
  • The origins of smoking in America
  • The promotion of smoking by American tobacco companies
  • Cigarette advertising
  • Nicotine
  • Congressional lobbying efforts by American tobacco companies
  • The profitability of tobacco products
  • The 1994 hearing and evidence for the addictiveness of nicotine 
  • Illnesses caused by smoking
  • Banning tobacco products
  • Dr. David Kessler and Stephen Parrish (see Nocera article cited above)

This lesson was written for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We welcome your comments. Please email them to: