May 24, 1996

The Tobacco Mafia

At Carthage nothing that results in profit is regarded as disgraceful.

Polybius, c.200 B.C.

If I knew a word to connote the ultimate in criminality, I would use it. Mafia is the best that I could find. I would like to apologize to The Mob for the comparison. While they might kill a few people every now and then, the tobacco companies are responsible for a minimum of 150,000 deaths every single year in this country alone.They are not quick deaths, like a bullet to the head, many are slow agonizing deaths.

After supporting the tobacco companies since the invention of the cigarette, a few members of our government seem to want to do something about the appalling mortality due to cigarette and other tobacco products. I doubt that they will succeed because of the amount of money and clout arrayed against them. Since tobacco kills lots of people before they become eligible for Social Security, there is even a financial advantage for the government.

Every time that someone criticizes the tobacco companies, the companies are always allowed to make a statement refuting the claims. The Mob isn't given the same courtesy, nor are the purveyors of "illegal" drugs.

The tobacco hucksters have used every dirty trick in the books to encourage people to smoke and to keep them smoking. It is not generally known that in the 1950s the Roswell Park Memorial Institute, a cancer institute, tried to place ads in the newspapers warning people of the dangers of smoking. They were not able to place a single one. So much for the criminality of the tobacco companies, freedom of speech and of the press, and the integrity of the press.

Sixty Minutes has presented the stories of two scientists who have decided to turn states evidence against the tobacco companies. I feel the same way about them as I do about any murderer who decides to give up his life of crime. He is a somewhat better person for it -but he would hardly be considered a virtuous human being. The reason -and the only reason- that a scientist would work for the tobacco companies is money. It is the same incentive that makes people professional swindlers, thieves or killers. If someone offered you an annual salary of $300,000 a year to help to kill people legally, would you take it? A first rate scientist could never aspire to earning that kind of money, unless he formed his own successful business. For sure a no-talent scientific hack could never make that kind of money. The Brown & Williamson tobacco company didn't have to try to assassinate Dr. Jeffrey Weygand's reputation. As far as I'm concerned, it was gone the day he signed on to work for B & W for the exorbitant salary of $300,000 per year -a salary that is unheard of for a Ph.D. in any field. He sold any integrity that he might have had. The fact that his family prays before dinner doesn't make him any less an accessory to murder. Most Mafia families are also religious. A rattlesnake has more morals than he does.

Knowing what I do about the way that the tobacco companies operate, I would encourage Food and Drug head David Kessler and congressman Henry A. Waxman to hire body guards. If The Observer had a broad circulation, I would figure that my days as a columnist were numbered for having written this article.

Next column

Return to the In The News Home Page

Return to Ira's Home Page