Anti-smoking advocates are in an uproar after Philip Morris International Inc. CEO Louis C. Camilleri claimed that cigarettes, though harmful and addictive, are "not that hard" to quit.
"Cigarettes are incredibly addictive, and heavy smokers have a very difficult time quitting," Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society wrote in his blog. "Our statistics in this country show that, for the most part, our ability nationwide to reduce the number of chronic smokers has hit a roadblock."
Camilleri made his statement Wednesday after Elisabeth Gundersen, a nurse with the tobacco industry watchdog group The Nightingale Nurses, cited statistics that tobacco kills more than 400,000 Americans and 5 million people worldwide each year.
More than 20 percent of American adults smoke cigarettes. And some studies suggest that tobacco is just as addictive as hard illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin.
Although Camilleri clarified his statement by acknowledging that cigarettes are addictive and dangerous, many experts and advocates said that was not enough.
"This statement continues the tobacco industry's long history of denying or downplaying the addictiveness and health risks of its products," Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids president Matthew L. Myers wrote in response to Camilleri's comment.
Camilleri added that the company has worked hard to ensure the tobacco products are more effectively regulated, and that a larger number of Americans have already quit smoking.
"There are more previous smokers in America today than current smokers," he said.
Although recent laws that have banned smoking indoors and raised taxes on cigarettes have motivated many to quit, advertising has still remained a major way many buy into smoking, according to Dr. John Spangler, associate professor of family medicine at Wake Forest University.
Some studies found that the smoking camel cartoon Joe Camel was more recognizable to children in the 1990s than Mickey Mouse.
"Adolescents are still buying into deceptive advertising," said Spangler, who mentioned that adolescents are one of the largest age groups with the highest likelihood to begin smoking.