Are Young Smokers More Likely to Litter and Use Illegal Drugs?

If you have ever wondered if youth, smoking, illegal drug use, and littering have anything in common, wonder no more. The following findings should cause even the most radical smokers’ rights fanatic to shiver:

Real Americans Don't Litter

“Results of this study deliver a strong cautionary message that those who smoked cigarettes before the age of 15 were up to 80 times more likely to use illegal drugs than those who did not,” said lead author Shenghan Lai, MD, MPH, associate research professor, Epidemiology, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

What have most states done with the huge tobacco settlement funds that were originally touted for preventing smoking among young people? Most have spent those funds for anything but education and prevention, including general expenditures in order to keep taxes down. Meanwhile, the hard-earned smoking decline among teenagers has leveled out and shows signs of spiking as some Hollywood actors and megastar singers sink to new lows by using tobacco in every movie and public appearance they can.

Tobacco companies have found many clever ways to skirt around advertisement bans. As the bans went into effect, we started seeing more smoking in TV shows, movies, and public appearances by celebrities than anytime since the 1950s. Big Tobacco also uses direct mailing, and inundates anyone who signs up for any of their gimmick “free prize” contests with slick brochures urging the reader to be an edgy dude by getting addicted to their product. The prize is death.

A much less deadly but still worrisome habit seems to go along with youth and smoking. Studies now reveal that smokers are 64% more likely to litter than non-smokers and that 67% of all litterbugs are people aged from thirteen to thirty. Nearly one fourth of litter in cities and on beaches comes from cigarette butts, packages, and paper. This debris is gobbled down by birds and fish, killing them by the thousands worldwide.

The national and international movements to ban smoking in public places, keep children away from tobacco, and fine litterbugs for everything from throwing down cigarette butts to leaving entire vehicles to rot in creeks seem to be making some headway. The debate in Virginia over whether or not smoking should be banned in public places has been couched as one of public health versus individual rights. The arguments posed by opponents to smoking bans have gotten ridiculous.

Anyone who invites the public to their premises has a duty to protect the invitee from harm, whether it means forbidding dangerous dogs from roaming the floor, keeping poisonous snakes from under the tables and chairs, or banning self-destructive “rebels” from polluting the common air with 1,000 known air pollutants that cause lung disorders and cancer. As in all other cases in a civilized society, if businesses open to the public refuse to protect customers and employees, the state steps in and requires it. Our Commonwealth should be no different and just recently adopted a restaurant smoking ban, effective 12/1/09.

Children do what they see adults do. One does not have to believe in evolution to agree that we humans act like monkeys in that regard. The less that children see adults smoking and littering, the less likely they are to pursue either habit, and the less likely these kids are to pursue much more deadly illegal drugs and lifestyles. Let’s get real and save our children.

The author, Frank Kilgore, is an attorney in St. Paul, Virginia, and a lifelong advocate of improved conservation, education, health, and eco-tourism jobs in the Appalachian coalfields.