Becoming Astonishingly Aware: An Intern’s Perspective on the Tobacco Industry in California

By Guest Blogger – Jacob Delbridge, Intern, The Center for Tobacco Policy & Organizing

Growing up in the outstandingly progressive city of Berkeley, I was trained at a young age about the dangers of smoking. None of my immediate family smoked. None of my friends’ families smoked. In fact, I knew one smoker: a great aunt who lived in New York. Fortunately, I was far removed from a world of toxic secondhand smoke. While I do not believe I was sheltered or coddled, I did come to the false impression that only the very rare few used tobacco and that a smoke-filled childhood was an occurrence that existed only in public service announcements, commercials and advertisements.

Only when I moved to the Central Valley and began my internship with the Center did I fully grasp the stronghold that the tobacco industry still maintains over California. Throughout my adolescence, I had the idea that California was too progressive and forward-thinking to interact with the tobacco companies. Furthermore, the seeming invisibility of the industry in my home community had convinced me that tobacco influence was a thing of the past.

However, as I am now working in the field of tobacco-control policy (as an “enemy” to the tobacco industry), I am consistently bombarded with evidence of the industry’s continued pervasiveness in California politics and of their appalling techniques to attract new youth smokers, target minority communities and dodge vital public health regulations.

You all are more than aware of this; this is not a new realization. However, for me it was, which I think is telling in itself. If the California public really knew how much the tobacco industry continues to indoctrinate youth smokers and keep quiet the public health risk of toxic secondhand smoke, I believe Californians like myself would recognize that the days of tobacco industry power and influence are not long behind us.

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