|TOBACCO & THE ELDERLY NOTES|
|The Center for Social Gerontology
Tobacco & the Elderly Project
|2307 Shelby Avenue, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48103
Tel: 734-665-1126 Fax: 734-665-2701
94% OF SMOKING DISEASE VICTIMS AGES 50+
Of 415,690 smoking-related deaths in the U.S. annually, 94.4% are of persons aged 50 and over. Persons aged 65 and over constitute 70.3% of smoking-related death victims.* No other cause of diseases comes close to tobacco in terms of the epidemic of deaths that result from it.
Of the 415,690 deaths due to smoking-related diseases, 392,364 deaths are of persons aged 50 and over; 292,157 are to persons aged 65 and over.*
Tobacco has been called a "pediatric disease" because children are the targets of tobacco industry advertising, and childhood is when 90% of current smokers were addicted. However, tobacco is also a "geriatric disease" because that is when the disease, suffering and death caused by tobacco overwhelmingly occurs.
I consider hospitals and nursing homes to be the
real "Marlboro Country."
Frank J. Kelley, Michigan Attorney General
Further, 53,000 people die annually in the U.S. from Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) or second-hand smoke-related diseases. Applying the same percentages of smoking-related deaths to ETS-related deaths, then over 50,000 of these deaths are to persons aged 50 and over; and, over 37,000 of these deaths are to persons aged 65 and over.
Michigan Attorney General Frank J. Kelley summed up the dangers of tobacco and its impact on older persons when he said, "I consider hospitals and nursing homes to be the real 'Marlboro County.'" (Attorney General Kelley recently filed a lawsuit against the major tobacco companies seeking over $14 billion to reimburse Michigan taxpayers for the public health costs resulting from smoking.)
Premature Deaths Due to Tobacco
The human impact of these startling figures hits home when one realizes that tobacco-related deaths are generally premature deaths. Life expectancy of smokers is substantially less than that of non-smokers or of persons who quit smoking.
The average years of life lost by each smoking-related disease victim is 12.1 years -- more than a decade of potentially relaxing, enjoyable retirement. In the U.S. in 1990, over 5 million years of life were lost due to smoking-related deaths. And, almost all these lost years were to persons aged 50 and over.
All too frequently, smokers point to George Burns or other smokers who have lived long lives to support their case (or hope) that they need not worry about premature death. In fact, 30-40% of smokers die prematurely from smoking-related diseases. Those who die prematurely from smoking lose 12-15 years of life versus non-smokers. In effect, this means that smokers who resist quitting because they believe they won't die prematurely are playing Russian roulette with 2 bullets in the 6 chambers of the gun; losing means they lose 12-15 years off their lives.
Tobacco-related diseases not only cause premature deaths, they frequently cause painful deaths. All three major causes of death among the elderly are associated with smoking and/or ETS -- heart disease, cancer and stroke.
In cultures such as the U.S. where smoking has been an established behavior for many decades, smoking is estimated to cause nearly 17% of all deaths. About 35% of all cancer deaths are due to smoking, but 90% of all lung cancer deaths are from smoking. And, 15% of stroke deaths and 22% of heart disease deaths are caused by smoking.
Smoking Rates Among Elders
Smoking rates of today's generation of older Americans -- that is, those persons born between 1910 and 1945 who are now aged 50 to over 85 -- were among the highest of any U.S. generation. Smoking rates ballooned in the 1950's and 1960's, reaching their peak in the mid-1960's. This was the period when most of today's elders were in their late teens or their 20's and 30's.
In 1965, there were an estimated 54 million adult smokers, or 43% of all adult residents of the U.S. Of adult males aged 18 and over, 53.4% were smokers, and 21% were former smokers. Of adult females aged 18 and over, 34% were smokers, and 8% were former smokers. Some age groups of men had smoking rates of over 70%. Many of these persons started smoking the unfiltered favorites of the day -- Camels, Chesterfield, Lucky Strike and Philip Morris. Many men also smoked pipes and cigars, as well as cigarettes.
During the 1950's, filter tipped cigarettes began to be marketed with a passion, and many of today's elders switched from unfiltered to filtered cigarettes. While the cigarette companies promised that filtered cigarette smoke was better for health, this was just one more lie. In fact, Kent for a period of time had asbestos in their filters.
With the release of the first Surgeon General's report on smoking in 1964 and with increasing numbers of scientific reports linking smoking to cancer, heart disease and other illnesses, smoking rates among adults began to drop. By 1985, there were still 54 million adult smokers, but smoking rates had dropped to 30% of the adult population. Adult male smoking rates had dropped to 33%, a very significant reduction. Adult female smoking rates had dropped to 28%, a much smaller reduction, reflecting the dramatically increased cigarette advertising targeted to women and girls.
By 1994, 25.5% of adults in the U.S. were smokers -- 48 million adults. Smoking rates of adult men and women had continued to decrease, with 28% of men (25 million) and 23% of women (23 million) still smokers.
Strikingly, the 1994 smoking rates of men and women between the ages of 18 and 64 were consistently in the range of 22% to 32%, but the smoking rates of persons aged 65 and over dropped to about 12%, with men having a 13% smoking rate and women an 11% rate.
The dramatic drop in smoking rates of those persons aged 65 and over is largely due to the death and disease caused by tobacco. The loss of almost 400,000 persons aged 50 and over annually to smoking-related deaths (almost 300,000 of these deaths are to persons aged 65 and over), accounts for a sizable portion of the percentage drop in smoking rates among persons 65 and over. Many other older persons find a way to stop smoking because their doctors insist that they stop for health reasons.
Even with the reduced smoking rates among older persons, over 4 million persons aged 65 and over are still smokers. And, almost 9 million persons aged 50 to 64 are smokers. Thus, over 13 million Americans aged 50 and over are smokers -- about 27% of all adult smokers.
Quitting Now Improves Health
In spite of all the attention focused on smoking in today's media, many persons are unaware that quitting smoking at any age results in almost immediate improvement in health status. Even persons who have smoked for 30, 40, 50 or more years will begin to feel positive changes in their physical health. For older smokers, there is no better time to quit than now.
* These data are from the Center for Disease Control's (CDC) Smoking-Attributable Mortality, Morbidity and Economic Costs report of August, 1996.
AN EPIDEMIC AMONG ELDERS
In July, 1952, Liggett & Myers Tobacco Co. ran an ad in Life magazine, boldly stating The Spotlight's on Chesterfield, and claiming that it was "kept tasty and fresh by pure, costly moistening agents proved by over 40 years of continuous use in U.S.A. tobacco products as entirely safe for use in the mouth...," and that "scientists from leading universities make sure that Chesterfield contains only ingredients that give you the best possible smoke."
On March 20, 1997, 47 years later, the spotlight was again on the maker of Chesterfield, as Liggett admitted it had lied repeatedly about the health dangers of tobacco and had for decades intentionally marketed its cigarettes to children as young as 14 years of age. Specifically, Liggett agreed to:
- Admit that smoking is addictive and causes cancer;
Admit that some of their tobacco marketing has been directed toward minors, and avoid doing so in the future;
Cooperate in lawsuits against other tobacco companies, turn over documents it has related to these lawsuits, and allow its employees to testify freely in the suits;
Pay 1/4 of its pretax profits annually, plus up to $25 million, to the states who are suing it, over 25 years.
While it's old news to most people that tobacco is addictive, causes cancer and that tobacco companies target children in their marketing, this is the first time any tobacco maker has acknowledged having this information for decades. Thus, all the advertising in the 1940's, '50's, '60's -- the ads that hooked today's elders -- and to the '90's telling smokers that cigarettes were safe -- all these were intentional lies.
In return for these admissions, Liggett settled the 22 pending state lawsuits accusing it and other major tobacco companies of lying about the health effects of tobacco and seeking billions of dollars in damages. The settlement made sense since Liggett is the smallest of the five major cigarette makers, and the evidence it has agreed to produce has great potential for helping obtain judgments against other tobacco companies. Liggett's admissions also make further denials by the other tobacco companies seem even more absurd and indefensible to most citizens.
However, in a separate nationwide class action suit settlement, Liggett is seeking blanket immunity from lawsuits by any U.S. resident for any actions Liggett has ever taken to cause harm to such persons through its tobacco products. And, within days of the Liggett settlement, Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds began "secret talks" with the 22 Attorneys General and the White House to try to reach a settlement providing all tobacco companies with the same blanket immunity from lawsuits. In return, they are offering a financial settlement and agreeing to marketing restrictions which would do little to reduce youth or adult tobacco addiction. Thus, tobacco makers are seeking absolute protection from liability for their intentional and knowing actions in addicting millions of persons to a product, which, if used as directed, kills.
While it's unclear if these "secret" discussions will produce an agreement, any major settlement will require Congressional and Presidential approval. As the persons afflicted by the diseases and death caused by these tobacco companies' products, older persons have a direct interest in any settlement agreements with the tobacco industry -- and an interest in informing Congress and the President of their views.
THE HUMAN TOLL OF SMOKING
Janet Sackman, a former model who appeared as Miss Chesterfield on the Perry Como television show and was a Lucky Strike cover girl in ads that ran in numerous magazines, began to smoke at age 17 when a tobacco executive told her that an aspiring model like her should smoke.
Today, at age 65, Janet Sackman speaks with a voice box. Janet developed lung cancer from years of smoking and had to have her larynx and one third of one lung removed. In recent years Janet has become an activist in the tobacco control movement, speaking frequently to youth with a simple message: "If you smoke, you die. Eventually, it gets you."
Janet Sackman is lucky to still be alive. The family of Jean Connor has only memories, since Jean died two years ag