Search NOVA Teachers

Back to Teachers Home

Search for a Safe Cigarette

Classroom Activity

To review a range of federal and state actions on tobacco issues and consider the government's role in public health.

Materials for each team
  • copy of student handouts
    Who Should Decide What's Safe part I ( HTML)
    Who Should Decide What's Safe part II ( HTML)
  • Access to print and Internet resources
  1. Organize students into groups. Provide each group member with a copy of the "Who Should Decide What's Safe? Part I" student handout.

  2. Have students read the excerpt from the U.S. Code regarding cigarette labeling and then discuss in their groups what they believe the impact of this original initiative is from their own perspective. Then have students answer the Part I questions on their student handouts. Note: This excerpt is taken from the U.S. Code: Chapter 36—Cigarette Labeling and Advertising. While it represents one of the seminal laws enacted regarding tobacco, it does not include laws regarding billboard advertisements or amendments to cigarette labeling and advertising made since the original legislation. Find a complete version of the chapter at U.S. House of Representatives—Downloadable U.S. Code:

  3. After students have discussed the questions, provide each group member with a copy of the "Who Should Decide What's Safe? Part II" student handout, which lists legislated actions that states have taken regarding tobacco issues. For additional state information or to order a copy of the full text of all state actions, visit:

  4. Have students discuss the state regulations regarding tobacco products. Have them determine which regulations are unfavorable or favorable to the smoking industry. Then have students answer the questions listed on the Part II student handout.

  5. When students have finished, lead a class discussion about society's responsibility to the public health of its citizens. When should society intervene in public health issues of its citizens and to what extent? What role, if any, should the federal versus state governments play in these issues? What are the responsibilities, if any, of society's citizens?

  6. As an extension, have students do additional research to compare tobacco laws enacted by their own state to those laws enacted by other states. How does their state compare? Of the laws currently enacted among states, which, if any, do they think their state should or should not try to adopt and why?

Activity Answer

There is no right answer when deciding the role of government, groups, or individuals in public health issues. Students may argue that the government should only intervene in public health when there is an imminent threat, such as the spread of an infectious disease. Other students may argue that it is the government's role to help inform and protect citizens from any dangerous products. Allow students to debate all points of view.

Links and Books


Stephenson, Joan. A 'Safer' Cigarette? Prove It, Say Critics." Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 283, No. 19, May 17, 2000, p. 2507.
Reviews R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company's claim that Eclipse cigarettes may present less risk of cancer and reports the reaction by public health officials, scientists, and anti-smoking activists to that claim.

Web Sites

NOVA Online—Search for a Safe Cigarette
On this Web site, investigate cigarette design, read about the history to develop a safer cigarette, learn how nicotine works in the brain, and explore the basics of combustion.

Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute
Gathers state-by-state, Internet-accessible sources of the constitutions, statutes, judicial opinions, and regulations for the 50 states, plus D.C., and the U.S. territories and affiliated jurisdictions.

Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program
Offers information and resources related to the Massachusetts government program dedicated to addressing the health risks associated with tobacco use.

Summary of Scientific Tests Regarding Tobacco-Heating Eclipse Cigarettes
Includes information from the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company about scientific tests conducted on Eclipse cigarettes that produce smoke primarily by heating tobacco, rather than burning it.

Tobacco Control
Offers ways to quit smoking and includes a section on teens against tobacco use.


The Who Should Decide What's Safe Activity (Parts I and II) aligns with the following National Science Education Standards:

Grades 5-8

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

Science Standard F:
Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

Risks and benefits

  • Important personal and social decisions are based on perceptions of benefits and risks.

Grades 9-12

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

Science Standard F:
Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

Science and technology in local, national, and global challenges

  • Science and technology are essential social enterprises, but alone they can only indicate what can happen, not what should happen. The latter involves human decisions about the use of knowledge.

Teacher's Guide
Search for a Safe Cigarette

Video is not required for this activity