Jeff Jardine

Snuffing out a bad habit by quitting smoking

Geoff Braithwaite, owner of Tasty Vapor in Oakland, exhales vapor after using an electronic cigarette. The California Department of Public Health report says e-cigarettes emit cancer-causing chemicals and get users hooked on nicotine.
Geoff Braithwaite, owner of Tasty Vapor in Oakland, exhales vapor after using an electronic cigarette. The California Department of Public Health report says e-cigarettes emit cancer-causing chemicals and get users hooked on nicotine. The Associated Press

Last weekend, after gassing up the car, I went back into the store to get the change. Yes, at $2.09 a gallon, there is such a thing as change after filling up the tank.

Anyway, the gentleman ahead of me in line also had pumped his gas and returned for change. That bit of high finance completed, he ordered a pack of Marlboro cigarettes.

The clerk told him it would cost $5.94, as I recall. He balked, asking her why the price had gone up. She could have explained that every pack of cigarettes sold, no matter the brand or base price, comes with 87 cents in built-in taxes, not including state and local sales and use taxes.

According to the State Board of Equalization, the first dime of it goes into the state’s general fund. Two pennies’ worth goes to the Breast Cancer Research Fund. Next, 25 cents goes into a fund that pays for tobacco-related health education and research, indigent medical care, and fire prevention and environmental programs.

And finally, the remaining 50 cents goes toward child development programs, including parental education and training.

But the clerk didn’t try to break down the cost. Instead, she shrugged her shoulders, which, in body language-speak, meant, “It’s $5.94 per pack. Do you want it or not?”

He didn’t. In fact, he told her he’d smoked his last cigarette at that price. His tone seemed to infer that he thinks he is punishing her and the entire tobacco industry.

Three things came to mind, the first being that I was pleased he wouldn’t be lighting up right there in the gas station. Never a good idea.

Second, as to whether he’ll really quit, I thought, “Yeah, sure.” If quitting cigarette smoking were that easy, more people would quit. But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, leading to the third thought:

He isn’t punishing the clerk, the station’s owner or Big Tobacco. He’s only helping himself.

The dangers of smoking and nicotine are certainly no secret. Tobacco is addictive and deadly, with damage ranging from heart and respiratory diseases to lung cancer to falling asleep with a lit cigarette in hand and burning down the house; and secondhand smoke affects the health of others. Smokeless tobacco is known to cause cancer, as well. There just isn’t an upside to tobacco use unless you’re an investor in tobacco companies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the tobacco industry costs the country nearly $300 billion a year between direct medical costs and lost productivity.

The industry has been under attack, and deservedly so, for decades. Now, the new electronic cigarettes are in the crosshairs, too.

Earlier this week, the city of Turlock banned (again) smoking in all of its public facilities, including parks. The ban includes the battery-operated e-cigs, some of which are designed to resemble the real thing.

Wednesday, the state Department of Health issued a health advisory about e-cigs and wants them regulated similarly to regular cigarettes. You know it’s serious when the e-cig got its own acronym.

“E-cigarettes are considered electronic nicotine delivery devices (ENDS) and have many names, including e-cigs, e-hookahs, hookah pens, vapes, vape pens, vape pipes, or mods,” according to the advisory. They are just as dangerous, the state said, as regular cigarettes.

“Although not as dangerous as secondhand smoke from combustible tobacco products, people exposed to e-cigarette aerosol absorb nicotine at levels comparable to people exposed to secondhand smoke,” the report stated.

Worse yet, Dr. Ron Chapman, the state’s health officer said, e-cig manufacturers are targeting children.

“The availability of e-cigarettes in a variety of candy and fruit flavors such as cotton candy, gummy bear, chocolate mint and grape makes these products highly appealing to young children and teens,” Chapman said in a release. “The use of marketing terms such as ‘e-juice’ may further mislead consumers into believing that these products are harmless and safe for consumption.

“Nationally, the use of e-cigarettes by high school students tripled in just two years and e-cigarette use by teens now surpasses the use of traditional cigarettes.”

E-cigarettes, he added, are known to emit at least 10 chemicals proven to cause cancer, birth defects and other reproductive issues.

Why are they getting so popular? They leave no ash or butts. And they are about 50 percent to 75 percent cheaper than regular cigarettes, according to one manufacturer.

But don’t tell that to the guy who, in a moment of clarity at the gas station last weekend, said he’s done smoking for good because cigarettes have gotten too expensive.

What he doesn’t know can only help him.

Bee columnist Jeff Jardine can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or (209) 578-2383. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJardine57.

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