April 17, 1998

The Tobacco Wars???

Smoking will not be permitted in this theater, except by a lot of the major actors in nearly every film your teenager sees, which is not technically cigarette advertising, even though it certainly looks like tobacco money is involved somehow, but everyone is being pretty coy about it.

Toles cartoon, 1998

An election is coming up, so a charade is being played out by congress, the tobacco companies and the president. We are given the impression that our government is going to get tough with the tobacco companies and do something to reduce teen smoking. If you believe that, I have a bridge that I will sell you cheap.

The president laid it on the line when he said that the government is going to reduce teen smoking and, at the same time, protect the livelihood of the tobacco growers.Those two goals are as incompatible as prostitution and chastity.

We have known for a long time that tobacco advertising was effective in inducing people to smoke. There was no tobacco advertising in the Soviet Union, yet cigarette smoking flourished. This is because formal advertising is a very small part of tobacco advertising. When I was a teen ager, every male of any significance smoked; the president smoked, my father smoked, every male hero smoked; most soldiers, sailors and marines smoked. Even my doctor smoked. I remember standing in front of a mirror and trying to dangle a cigarette from my lips like my movie hero. I practiced lighting two cigarettes at a time like actor Paul Henried did, and passing one to my female companion.

Not much has changed except for my father, who died of emphysema and heart failure caused by cigarettes. I wised up and quit the weed. Now, almost every star, both male and female, smokes in film, even though many don't smoke in real life. Women are now as liberated as men; they too are privileged to die of heart disease and lung cancer. They are encouraged to smoke by the alluring ads in women's magazines.

If you really want a major cancer breakthrough, I have one for you. And it is not in some piddling 50% reduction. Deaths from lung cancer can be prevented by well over 90%. The incidence of heart attacks can also be reduced considerably by the same process. You guess how.

Enough adults came to their senses and quit smoking to reduce the lung cancer deaths a little bit. Lung cancer still remains the major cancer killer and almost all of it is caused by cigarette smoking. More men die of lung cancer than die of prostate cancer. More women die of lung cancer than die of breast cancer. Almost all of these deaths could be prevented if people stopped smoking or, better still, never start.

In the face of the massive psychological pressure to smoke, it is unreasonable to expect teenagers not to smoke. We can only hope than many of them will come to their senses long before it costs them their lives.

It might help if congress passed a law declaring it a criminal conspiracy, punishable by 10 years in prison, to attempt to induce someone to use tobacco, just as it is a crime to induce kids to use illegal drugs.

There has been an advertising campaign, paid for by California state taxes, to try to induce people to stop smoking. It is almost as if it has been deliberately made as ineffective as possible and designed to reach the wrong audience.

By the next election, we will be left with the impression that congress got tough with the tobacco companies. We will also be left with the impression that the government will reduce the death of children from automatic weapons. All of this will be pure illusion. The president knows it, congress knows it, and the tobacco companies and the gun lobby know it. The only people being kept in the dark are the the members of the public who are being led to believe that this charade is for real.

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