Two Types of Cigarettes, One for Teens, Both Stupid

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This morning's New York Times op-ed "A Two-Cigarette Society" by attorney David G. Adams made me think I was reading The Onion. Adams argued that we should have two types of cigarettes, one with and one without nicotine. He is proposing that we start young adults out on nicotine-free cigarettes, so they don't get hooked.

What were they thinking at the Times editorial page when they published this scientific atrocity? Let us see if I understand this: We should educate our kids to choose the nicotine-free smokes -- communicating the message that smoking is socially acceptable as long as the addictive agent is absent. Our teenagers would smoke what Adams thinks of as a "safe" cigarette. However, given that a primary motivation for smoking is the "kick" that comes from nicotine, the novice smoker will quickly figure out that this is not the real thing. Like a child learning to ride a bike with training wheels, the teens using nicotine-free smokes will be eager to drop the training wheels and move on to the real McCoy -- all the while inhaling smoke, which will still be damaging with or without nicotine.

Making a bad situation worse, Adams adds to his already ludicrous proposal for two types of cigarettes the recommendation that nicotine levels in smokes gradually get reduced across the board. That is an absolutely dreadful and dangerous idea. Smokers smoke to get nicotine, a substance which is clearly addictive but is not inherently hazardous to health. As nicotine levels go down, smokers will smoke more cigarettes, harder and deeper, to get the nicotine they craves, thus taking in more of the lethal products of combustion in cigarette smoke, which are responsible for the long list of cigarette-related ills.

The New York Times promises to give us "all the news that's fit to print." But this opinion piece was not worthy of print because it has no redeeming public health virtues whatsoever. What are they smoking at the op ed page of the newspaper of record?

Dr. Elizabeth Whelan is president of the American Council on Science Health (ACSH.org, HealthFactsAndFears.com).

See also: ACSH's site TheScoopOnSmoking.org. And check out our book Cigarettes: What the Warning Label Doesn't Tell You -- Information Tobacco Companies Don't Want Teens to Know About the Dangers of Smoking.