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The tobacco industry’s body count

We have known for over 70 years that the tobacco industry’s products cause devastating amounts of death and disease to all of us – whether we use their products or not.1 We have known for nearly 30 years that the tobacco industry lied to us about how addictive and deadly their products are.2 And yet, they are still here putting us all in danger. A toddler gasps for air during an asthma attack caused by drifting cigarette smoke. A teen is hospitalized for chest pain and shortness of breath from vaping. A family buries their loved one who died of lung cancer. All because of an industry that produces deadly products that hurt us all and hasn’t been held accountable.

The tobacco industry kills 110 Californians each day.3 And for every 1 death, 30 more people suffer from a disease that this industry caused – diseases that rob Californians of their parents, siblings, neighbors, friends, and their own lives.4

How have we let this go on for so long? What the tobacco industry wants us to believe is that it’s all about “freedom of choice.” This conveniently shifts accountability away from them and back onto their customers. From the industry’s point of view, people who use their products are solely responsible for the death and disease they experience.5 But that doesn’t work for two key reasons:

  • Secondhand smoke exposure tramples all over non-tobacco users’ “freedom of choice.” Thousands of people suffer and die each year from secondhand smoke exposure.6 People who have never even touched the tobacco industry’s products. And you might be thinking – it’s not the industry that exposed them to secondhand smoke, it’s the users. People who use tobacco choose to use the tobacco that ends up hurting those around them. But let’s talk about how much “freedom of choice” tobacco users have.
  • People who use tobacco had their “freedom of choice” removed when Big Tobacco targeted and addicted them as children.7 We have known for a long time that the tobacco industry engineers its products to maximize addictiveness.8 Most people who smoke want to quit and wish they had never started.910 And they will tell you that quitting is one of the hardest things they’ve ever done.1112 This, coupled with the tobacco industry’s business model that relies on targeting and hooking young people, calling them “replacement smokers,” starts making this “freedom of choice” argument look more and more like another tobacco industry scam.13 We know that the tobacco industry uses tactics that are intentionally designed to attract kids – fun flavors, colorful packaging, candy-like names, and sleek-tech devices.1415 And the industry’s predatory practices work – 90% of adults who smoke daily started before they turned 18.7 Nicotine hooks young developing brains and removes “freedom of choice” before kids even have the right to vote.

The tobacco industry knowingly sells products that kill, spending billions of dollars each year to keep its highly addictive and deadly products on shelves.1617 And now they’ve created a youth vaping epidemic hooking a new generation on their toxic vapes.18

We all have the right to live and raise families in healthy environments without forced exposure to deadly substances that cause cancer and can damage the brain, lungs, and heart. And those people who don’t have a choice of where they live – children, elderly, disabled people, or those just struggling to get by – don’t deserve to have their rights to healthy, clean air taken away. It’s time to hold the tobacco industry accountable.


Big Tobacco’s Fantasyland

Big Tobacco’s trying to sell us a future without smoking. Their deception is dangerous – and deadly.

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Secondhand Dangers

Cigarette smoke and vape aerosol from e-cigarettes contain chemicals that cause cancer and reproductive harm. Exposure to secondhand smoke can happen at work, at home, or even outdoors – which puts everyone at risk for lung cancer and other serious health problems.

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Tobacco industry’s damage

The tobacco industry currently spends billions each year on slick marketing tactics and political influence so they can profit off death and disease.1617
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Even for people who don’t use tobacco, there can be deadly consequences.19
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The industry calls kids their “replacement customers.”20 Big Tobacco sentences them to a lifetime of addiction and disease.
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This racist and unjust industry has strategically targeted certain communities with deadly products and manipulative messaging.21
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No one’s safe from the environmental damage and health risks from toxic tobacco waste and its plastic pollution.22232425262728
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lady in a garden wearing a head scarf

Hold the industry accountable

California has already protected people from other harmful products, and it’s time to hold the tobacco industry to the same standards.2930
  1. Proctor RN. The history of the discovery of the cigarette-lung cancer link: evidentiary traditions, corporate denial, global toll [published correction appears in Tob Control. 2013 Jan;22(1):62]. Tob Control. 2012;21(2):87-91. doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2011-050338.
  2. Truth Initiative. The 5 ways tobacco companies lied about the dangers of smoking cigarettes. Truthinitiative.org. https://truthinitiative.org/research-resources/tobacco-prevention-efforts/5-ways-tobacco-companies-lied-about-dangers-smoking. Published December 21, 2017. Accessed April 14, 2022.
  3. Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. The toll of tobacco in California. Updated June 13, 2024. Accessed July 1, 2024. https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/problem/toll-us/california
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Archive: Diseases and Death. Updated July 29, 2022. Accessed July 3, 2024. https://archive.cdc.gov/#/details?url=https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fast_facts/diseases-and-death.html
  5. Friedman LC, Cheyne A, Givelber D, Gottlieb MA, Daynard RA. Tobacco industry use of personal responsibility rhetoric in public relations and litigation: disguising freedom to blame as freedom of choice. Am J Public Health. 2015;105(2):250-260. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2014.302226.
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Archive: Vital Signs: Secondhand smoke. Updated February 3, 2015. Accessed July 3, 2024. https://archive.cdc.gov/#/details?url=https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/tobacco/index.html
  7. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking - 50 Years of Progress. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health; 2014.
  8. Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Designed for Addiction: How the tobacco industry has made cigarettes more addictive, more attractive to kids and even more deadly. Washington, D.C.: Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. June 23, 2014.
  9. Babb S, Malarcher A, Schauer G, Asman K, Jamal A. Quitting Smoking Among Adults — United States, 2000–2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2017;65:1457–1464. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6552a1.
  10. Nayak P, Pechacek TF, Slovic P, Eriksen MP. Regretting Ever Starting to Smoke: Results from a 2014 National Survey. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017;14(4):390. Published 2017 Apr 6. doi:10.3390/ijerph14040390.
  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Why Quitting Smoking Is Hard. CDC.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/quit-smoking/quit-smoking-medications/why-quitting-smoking-is-hard/index.html. Reviewed January 3, 2022. Accessed April 14, 2022.
  12. American Heart Association News. Why it's so hard to quit smoking. Heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/news/2018/10/17/why-its-so-hard-to-quit-smoking. Published October 17, 2018. Accessed April 14, 2022.
  13. RJR; BURROWS DS. STRATEGIC RESEARCH REPORT YOUNG ADULT SMOKERS: STRATEGIES AND OPPORTUNITIES. RJ Reynolds Records; Master Settlement Agreement. 1984 February 29. https://www.industrydocuments.ucsf.edu/docs/ntxb0099.
  14. Brown JE, Luo W, Isabelle LM, Pankow JF. Candy flavorings in tobacco. N Engl J Med. 2014;370(23):2250-2252. doi:10.1056/NEJMc1403015.
  15. Jackler RK, Chau C, Getachew BD, Whitcomb MM, Lee-Heidenreich J, Bhatt AM, et al. JUUL Advertising Over its First Three Years on the Market. Stanford, CA: Stanford Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising, Stanford University School of Medicine. January 31, 2019.
  16. Federal Trade Commission. Federal Trade Commission Cigarette Report for 2020. Washington, D.C. Federal Trade Commission; 2021.
  17. Industry profile: tobacco. opensecrets.org. https://www.opensecrets.org/federal-lobbying/industries/summary?cycle=2021&id=A02. Accessed 9 March 2022.
  18. Food and Drug Administration. Results from 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey show dramatic increase in e-cigarette use among youth over past year. News release. Published November 15, 2018. Accessed June 17, 2024. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/results-2018-national-youth-tobacco-survey-show-dramatic-increase-e-cigarette-use-among-youth-over
  19. Office on Smoking and Health (US). The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US); 2006.
  20. RJ Reynolds. Younger Adult Smokers: Strategies and Opportunities. https://www.industrydocuments.ucsf.edu/docs/rkvk0045. 1984 February 29.
  21. Anderson SJ. Marketing of menthol cigarettes and consumer perceptions: a review of tobacco industry documents. Tob Control. 2011;20 Suppl 2(Suppl_2):ii20-ii28. doi:10.1136/tc.2010.041939.
  22. Break Free From Plastic. Branded Vol. III: Demanding corporate accountability for plastic pollution. 2020.
  23. Poma A, Vecchiotti G, Colafarina S, et al. In Vitro Genotoxicity of Polystyrene Nanoparticles on the Human Fibroblast Hs27 Cell Line. Nanomaterials (Basel). 2019;9(9):1299. Published 2019 Sep 11. doi:10.3390/nano9091299.
  24. Zarus GM, Muianga C, Hunter CM, Pappas RS. A review of data for quantifying human exposures to micro and nanoplastics and potential health risks. Sci Total Environ. 2021;756:144010. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.144010.
  25. Jacob H, Besson M, Swarzenski PW, Lecchini D, Metian M. Effects of Virgin Micro- and Nanoplastics on Fish: Trends, Meta-Analysis, and Perspectives. Environ Sci Technol. 2020;54(8):4733-4745. doi:10.1021/acs.est.9b05995.
  26. Ziv-Gal A, Flaws JA. Evidence for bisphenol A-induced female infertility: a review (2007-2016). Fertil Steril. 2016;106(4):827-856. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2016.06.027.
  27. Campanale C, Massarelli C, Savino I, Locaputo V, Uricchio VF. A Detailed Review Study on Potential Effects of Microplastics and Additives of Concern on Human Health. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(4):1212. Published 2020 Feb 13. doi:10.3390/ijerph17041212.
  28. Belzagui F, Buscio V, Gutiérrez-Bouzán C, Vilaseca M. Cigarette butts as a microfiber source with a microplastic level of concern. Science of The Total Environment. 2021;762:144165. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.144165.
  29. Governor Newsom Signs Legislation Making California First in the Nation to Ban Toxic Chemicals in Cosmetics [press release]. gov.ca.gov. https://www.gov.ca.gov/2020/09/30/governor-newsom-signs-legislation-making-california-first-in-the-nation-to-ban-toxic-chemicals-in-cosmetics/. Published September 30, 2020. Accessed March 23, 2022.
  30. Landmark California law bans 'forever chemicals' in products for infants, children [press release]. ewg.org. https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news-release/2021/10/landmark-california-law-bans-forever-chemicals-products-infants. Published October 5, 2021. Accessed March 23, 2022.