Where there’s smoke, there’s …

For the last 365+ days, we’ve all been inundated with reports about the “terrorist attacks” on America. And in recent weeks, we’ve been fed a nonstop diet of exhortations to “never forget” what happened on Sept. 11, 2001. At every turn, candles, flowers, flags, burning headlights, forwarded e-mails and images of crying women clutching photographs have been there to remind us of the tragedy.

Like every other human on the planet, I was shocked beyond belief by what happened in New York City on that dark September day. But I must admit, I’m even more shocked by what happens on U.S. soil every day.

Do you want to know what kills more Americans every year than any terrorist attack, anywhere? Do you know what kills more U.S. citizens each day than AIDS, murder, suicide, fires, alcohol and all illegal drugs combined?

Take a look around you, right now, wherever you are. Can you guess? (There’s an excellent chance that the answer is within sight … or smell, at any rate.) If you guessed “cigarettes,” you’re absolutely right.

In the U.S. alone, cigarettes contribute to the deaths of more than 440,000 people each year. That’s a pretty big number — far larger than the number of those who perished on Sept. 11 last year. It works out to more than 1,200 people each day … about 50 every hour. When I first heard that great big number, I found it hard to fathom exactly what 1,200 people a day really meant; it was simply beyond my comprehension. I’ve since heard it explained this way: 1,200 is the number of fatalities there’d be if three jumbo jets crashed every day — and everyone on board died.

Imagine that. Imagine turning on the news or picking up the paper and learning that three jets filled with passengers and crew had crashed earlier that day, with no survivors. Now imagine that three more planes crashed the next day, and the next day, and every single day for the rest of your life. I wonder how long it would take the FAA to shut down an airline that was crashing three planes a day.

A thousand of the dead are infants, born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m a firm believer in freedom of choice. If people really want to smoke, I say let them. But studies show that 70 percent of American smokers would like to quit — they just haven’t been able to. So I say, before anyone takes that very first puff, give her or him a thorough education about what she’s putting into her mouth, her lungs and the air around her.

How many people, I wonder, would have taken that first puff if they’d known there was a good chance they’d be sucking formaldehyde into their bodies as well? (You remember the smell of formaldehyde from high-school biology lab, don’t you?) Not to mention carbon monoxide, arsenic, lead, butane and hydrogen cyanide. Ammonia is added to cigarettes to make sure the brain absorbs an extra dose of nicotine with each puff. A pinch of cocoa and licorice ensure that the bronchial tubes will open up nice and wide and let plenty of smoke into the lungs quickly. And of course, there’s naphthalene (the very same ingredient that gives mothballs their fragrance), as well as cadmium (which is found in some batteries).

I’m still a bit unclear on whether cigarettes contain urea after reading an excerpt from a 1993 tobacco-company memo that asked, “Would disclosure of urea as a tobacco additive have a negative effect on consumer perception, given that it is a constituent of urine?”

But regardless of whether smokers inhale a little recycled urine with every puff, one thing is clear: The dice are definitely loaded in tobacco manufacturers’ favor. Cigarettes contain a carefully concocted, lethal mix of chemicals specifically designed to get smokers addicted quicker. It would be one thing if tobacco companies were simply rolling up tobacco leaves in paper and peddling them. But they’re not. They’re deliberately adding ingredients that make people get addicted quickly, make people sick, and make people die. (The average American male smoker sacrifices more than 13 years of his life for the privilege of lighting up; the average American female, 14.5 years.)

I smoked when I was a teenager; even though the smoke tasted bad and I was constantly burning holes in clothes and furniture, I kept it up. I wanted to be “cool” like Melanie, my college roommate. But if we’d known what was in those cigarettes, I doubt that either of us would have thought smoking was cool, despite the advertising tidal wave we’d both been exposed to. (In the year 2000, the tobacco industry spent $9.57 billion on advertising — and not a nickel of that was spent on broadcast media, since Congress banished tobacco ads from TV and radio back in 1971.) Luckily, I was diagnosed with cancer at age 19 — that was enough to cut off my habit, midpuff.

Tobacco companies have cynically called teenagers “replacement smokers.” After all, the industry clearly needs to replace the 1,200 customers who die each day. So sweet ingredients such as honey, sucrose, sucrose syrup and fruits are now added to many brands of cigarettes. A 1972 tobacco-industry memo makes the reason clear: Since many teens like the taste of sweets, additives like honey might make cigarettes more appealing to them. Will your child be the next “replacement smoker?”

Please educate the young people in your life. Let them know what cigarettes contain. Visit Web sites such as www.thetruth.com together. Learn which tobacco companies own the manufacturers of the groceries, beverages and luxury items you may have in your home right now. Once you’re educated, you can begin to choose which corporations you’d like to support with your dollars. And if you’re a smoker who’s content to remain one, consider switching to “natural” brands that contain fewer additives.

Maybe, just maybe, the biggest “enemy” of the American people is not to be found outside U.S. borders after all. Perhaps an “attack on America” has been going on right here, in our own country, all these years.

[Priscilla Broussard is a clinical hypnotherapist with HypnosisUSA.com.]

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