Uncovering the truth about youth smoking

By Emily Senger

When Georgina Lowell’s father died of lung cancer, and her non-smoking mother, was diagnosed with emphysema as a result of living for 50 years with a smoker, she got mad–and then she got to work on getting even.

The book Project Moving Target is the result Lowell’s four years of research into documents produced by tobacco companies over the past 50 years. Lowell’s findings reveal the tactics tobacco companies use to lure kids into smoking, tactics Lowell shared at the University of Calgary on January 17.

“The deceit and manipulation that has been taking place for so long–I dug through these documents for four years and then I wrote this book,” explained Lowell.

Deceit and manipulation Lowell discovered in the documents she examined included marketing to children through the use of peer pressure, studio kickbacks for tobacco use in movies, aggressive marketing plans for Generation-X, adding candy-flavors to smokeless tobacco to make it appealing to young users and genetically–and illegally–modifying tobacco plants to produce more nicotine.

After writing her book, Lowell took her message to elementary, middle and high schools, the areas where she says tobacco companies are looking for new smokers. She now tours schools, sharing her message with youth, and developed a stop-smoking mentorship program where high school students deliver an anti-smoking message to younger students.

“In North America, the [tobacco] industry has to find 3,000 new smokers a day to replace those who quit or die–nine out of ten of those new smokers are under 18,” said Lowell.

Lowell is concerned with the increase in the use of chewing tobacco as an acceptable alternative to smoke tobacco, especially with teenaged boys involved in sports.

“Smokeless tobacco, here it is, its candy flavored,” said Lowell. “One of the more upsetting documents I encountered outlined adjusting the pH level of a sugared smokeless tobacco product so it’s not too strong flavored for a young boy.”

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