March 22, 2023
Richard Kagan Ph.D.

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. (Oct. 13, 2018) — In October, the Otter Tail County Commissioners will decide on an ordinance to raise the minimum age to purchase Tobacco products including cigarettes and vaping devices from 18 to 21 years of age.

Jason McCoy MPH, the Tobacco Prevention Coordinator at PartnerSHIP 4 Health advocates for the new program known as T-21.

The arguments for this limitation to buy tobacco products rely not only on the health issues but also on the demographic findings about the special harm of smoking to teenagers and young adults

The impetus for the new tobacco regulations result from current research which exposes threatening information on the scope and consequences of smoking.

For several decades there was a gradual decline in smoking.  But, recently the level has risen due to the innovation of vaping and the limited research about the dangers of smoking.

On the global level, the journal Addiction has calculated in 2015 that “alcohol and tobacco use cost the human population more than a quarter of a billion disability-adjusted life years.”  The journal surprisingly documented that the “largest health burden from substance abuse was tobacco smoking.”  Tobacco came in second and illicit drugs were low in third place.  (From this journal, it was obvious that our priority of a war on drugs was misplaced.)

The proposed T-21 ordinance focuses on restricting 17-20-year-old consumers from purchasing tobacco products because studies have shown that 95 percent of addicted adult smokers start before age 21.  More locally, 26 percent of Minnesota students use these products.

What are the dangers?  It is generally known that cigarettes contribute to the creation of lung cancer and premature death.  Not so well recognized are the psychological and biological damages of smoking.  Some writers have pointed to the effects of smoking on the rise of aggressive behavior due to the unregulated production of adrenaline in the body.  Adrenaline is the substance that provides us with the energy burst to defend ourselves—to give us more strength, more oxygen to feed our muscles and brain, and more strength to fight back. The logic of this observation derives from presumed biological behaviors caused by inhaling smoke. When smoke enters the body of the unborn and new born, the blood vessels contract limiting the blood that carries oxygen to the brain and the body.  To combat this effect, the body pumps adrenaline to increase blood flow.  Gradually, as the child grows older, the threshold for releasing adrenaline into action falls lower and lower.  Minor fears and threats can precipitate unnecessary and anti-social behavior or anger due to the early uncontrolled habit of strengthening defensive behaviors.

It is due to these serious consequences of smoking, particularly in pregnant teenagers that the legal age of smoking needs to be raised.  Many teenagers are baby-sitting their family members or other children.  Their smoking habits can harm the little kids they are playing with and watching.  The negative results will not be known for years.

Other long-term negative effects include the development of asthma, hearing loss problems, and struggles with long term addiction.

But, the most hidden effect of smoking is in the area of radioactivity.  It has been known for years by the tobacco companies that tobacco smoke is responsible for escorting radioactivity into the lungs of the unwary.

The radioactive culprit is Polonium, aka P210.  In the 19th Century, Madame Currie discovered the elements of radium and polonium, both of which are actively radioactive.  Polonium is one of the most dangerous elements when formed into a liquid and used in poisonous injections into the human body.  In lower doses, it is not as immediately lethal, but minute amounts can still cause a slow deterioration of the body.  Two to three percent of cancer deaths from smoking are caused by the presence of Polonium in the body.

The chemistry of polonium and how it is introduced into tobacco will be a story one can find in Google or chemistry books.  For purposes here, let me just talk about polonium in tobacco smoke.  Tobacco plants are grown in soils with a form of polonium.  The major tobacco industries had secretly hidden their knowledge and research of this issue.  In 1998, due to the discovery of these studies, the information on radioactive tobacco became public, in part.  Several studies, including the Journal of Nicotine and Tobacco Research, estimated that cancer deaths from Polonium smoke led to 120-138 lung cancer deaths per year per 1,000 regular smokers.  This would only include the millions of smokers in America, and not the global smoking population.

What was most alarming was that the tobacco producers were well aware of how to scrub the polonium out of the tobacco leaves.  According to scientific investigators, the cigarette manufacturers refused to clean off the polonium because its presence raised the “nicotine kick.”  To lower the polonium would not deliver a stronger and necessary “kick” to the brain of the smoker, thus reducing its appeal.

As far as vaping, there has been very little research on the effects and composition of vaping. However, it also uses tobacco.  Its addiction levels may be higher.  And its nicotine (and thus polonium) kick would be greater.

There are two conclusions that follow from this analysis:

1)  We do not know enough about tobacco and its effects to assure the public that it is either safe or suitable for public use.  We do know that the negative consequences of smoking far outweigh the positive.

2) The expenditures on health care will balloon by any increase in smoking or vaping.  Many more people will live in the physical pain of addition, addictive behaviors, and economic suffering.

T-21 should just be a beginning of the path to reduce smoking and vaping to the most minimal levels. And to begin programs to care for the addict and to shield the vulnerable.

Jason McCoy should be congratulated and supported for educating the County, and for limiting the usage of tobacco to users under the age of 21.  We should be proud to be the first northern Minnesota County to care enough for our children and peers to limit the purchase of tobacco and vaping.

Richard Kagan, Ph.D., worked with the Office on Tobacco Reforms in the Department of Health in Taiwan and has published and lectured on this topic.

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