It is certainly not a secret that I am politically conservative, and have come to my views by a long life trying to look at things realistically -- liberalism, after all, does not work and has never worked; it, and its associated perversions such as socialism and communism, cannot work in that they disincentivize productivity in their effort to make everyone the same.
Way back when (September), when I was writing my very first columns, I pointed out that people's opinions on issues tended to assort. What makes someone a liberal or conservative on one issue is the same thing that compels them to a corresponding (liberal or conservative) view on a majority of other issues.
We each, though, have issues colored not by our political leanings, but by personal experience or learned prejudice. And I have mine.
I suspect if you were to do the binary issue treatment (pick an extreme and only an extreme, between two opposite views) on this issue, there would be a predictable outcome. The binary treatment would be to select either:
(1) People should be free to smoke tobacco wherever and whenever without controls
(2) Tobacco should be banned from sale or use anywhere in the USA.
Liberals would tend to come down on the #2 answer, while conservatives would be a higher percentage of the #1 respondents.
I get that. Conservatives lean toward personal freedom and minimized regulation and government intrusion. But I am firmly on the "ban it" side. Tobacco is a far, far different beast, for a few reasons:
(1) Nicotine is an addictive drug, comparable to heroin in addictive properties
(2) Cigarettes are a nicotine delivery system which use an array of carcinogens to deliver nicotine
(3) Very few people begin smoking cigarettes after 18 (the legal age to buy them, where it isn't 21)
(4) People under 18 are not fully capable of making rational health decisions (e.g., not smoking)
(5) Smoking kills a third of its practitioners overtly, through cancer, heart disease, COPD, etc.
Given (3) and (4), it was incumbent on the tobacco companies to find a way decades back to capitalize on the powerful addictive quality of their product and the moral weakness inherent in youth.
So they, for decades, glamorized cigarette smoking. They paid movie producers to feature smoking (Sylvester Stallone got $500,000 from R.J. Reynolds once for a single movie). They sponsored 1950s news broadcasts and contractually required a lit cigarette in front of Edward R. Murrow and other newsmen at all time. And, when the first Surgeon General's reports came out in the early 1950s suggesting that smoking was not exactly healthy, they built an entire phony-baloney "research laboratory" concept to show otherwise and make believe they cared about their customers.
Oh yeah -- they also made gargantuan contributions to politicians in tobacco states, on both sides of the aisle, to protect their cash cow.
The result? At times, as many as 40% of teenagers -- who by law could not buy tobacco -- smoked. They were hooked before they reached the age of sane decision-making, and most remained addicted until their lungs rotted and their coronary arteries clogged.
Eventually, the tobacco companies got sued and had to settle for enormous penalties, although even the funds designated from the settlement to be used for cessation programs got diverted in states like, well, mine -- Virginia. Ultimately smoking became much less prevalent, although as I sit in a Starbucks writing this, a few late-teens are hanging out outside, puffing on cigarettes. Stupidity cannot easily be legislated away.
So ... conservatism. It is in the nature of conservatives to resist regulation innately, but in my case I view the smoker as victim. Victim, yes, of the tobacco companies using moral force to hook them, get them physically addicted -- before they could legally purchase the product, and before they had sufficient maturity to realize that smoking was a bloody stupid thing to do.
But conservatives are people, too. We despise abuse as much as anyone, and the actions of Big Tobacco were systematic abuse of generations. I was so embarrassed by Bob Dole in 1996 comparing tobacco to milk, that I voted for the other guy, the only time I ever voted for a Democrat. Really, Senator, no amount of campaign cash justified that comment. You embarrassed conservatives.
So this is a message. To Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader from a tobacco state (Kentucky). To John Boehner, Speaker of the House and a heavy smoker. You lead all conservatives, including those of us who lost relatives, like my grandfather, to cigarettes. I have enough trouble looking at the leadership in Congress that represents my party and my views, and seeing tobacco on your resumes. Just know, sirs, that being a conservative does not mean we support tobacco use or defense of tobacco companies or acceptance of their donations.
Aside ... When the first connection of cigarettes to health risk was aired in the early 1950s, my father -- who would lose his own dad to cigarette-induced cancer ten years later -- asked his doctor about it. "Oh yeah", the doctor said, "if you saw the reports you'd quit, just like I did." Dad tossed his pack in the trash right there and never smoked another cigarette for the rest of his wonderful, 95-year life.
No, tobacco is the single largest source of political corruption the last hundred years, and I do not want conservatism associated with its support. I do not want it associated with the Republican Party.
Because, guys, lots of conservatives detest tobacco -- and Lordy, we vote, too.
Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
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