Friday, April 17, 2015

Reconciling Conservatism and Tobacco Distaste

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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1 comment:

  1. To learn about the discovery of tobacco, check out the conversation between Sir Walter Raleigh and the head of the British West Indies Company as reported by Bob Newhart at .

    Back to today, many of our generation started smoking in early adolescence around the time “Smoking and Health: Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General” was published in 1964. This was the result of serious review of more than 7,000 scientific studies going back to the 1930s, but it took a while to be accepted by the general public. 40-50 years after being ignored, it’s hard for many of our generation to quit a 40-50 year habit.

    I once did a little work for a hospice client but quit when they failed to pay. The owner, his girlfriend (both married but not to each other), the Director of Nursing, and the Director of CNAs will finally come to trial for $7 million worth of Medicare fraud in June, but I digress. Their office was in a nursing home, and I never stopped by the office to see fewer than six CNAs outside the front door smoking. By the time our kids’ generation started smoking the Report to the Surgeon General was hardly controversial, but even CNAs chose to ignore it. Why, I can’t imagine.

    It sure would be good to stop it, but how? The only significant accomplishment of the failed attempt to ban adult beverages was the development of highly effective organized crime. The only significant accomplishments of the failed war on drugs are an obscene fraction of our population living in government-supported cages and street gangs slaughtering innocent bystanders, unlike the Mafia, which only hit intended targets. Fact: I know where to get heroin today at a far lower price, not even adjusted for inflation, than it could be gotten when we were in school, despite the number of low-level street dealers currently locked up.

    I respectfully disagree with the concept of putting tobacco on the well-intentioned but highly flawed Schedule I list of controlled substances. I have seen with my own eyes a girl who chose heroin as escape from her mentally ill, abusive mother. I once took her to the hospital suffocating from an “asthma attack” that I later learned was a shutdown of her respiratory system due to excessive heroin. Anyone who thinks he has seen difficult tobacco withdrawal has never seen how horrendously sickening heroin withdrawal is. Thanks to the grace of God, she is four years clean and a miraculous, rare, complete recovery from that stuff.

    A single abnormally large dose of tobacco or marijuana is unlikely to kill its user within minutes. I have a neighbor who invites his father over to smoke cigars. They smoke outside because his wife won’t let them in the house. They enjoy it on nice days and have no trouble not smoking during the half year that it’s cold outside. One of my high school classmates earned a hangover many years ago, decided never to let that happen again, and switched to marijuana. He and a number of others whom I know occasionally enjoy getting wrecked in private and don’t drive until they come down. Do I approve? No way! Would I recommend locking them up? And let the cure be worse than the disease? Let’s let the punishment fit the crime!

    Rather than fail to ban what can’t be banned and create yet another cure worse than the disease, let’s try to come up with effective reduction. For those who are hooked, it’s hard. Perhaps free patches and counseling with progressive rewards for staying away? For younger ones being tempted, how about decent education? Just as our generation laughed at Reefer Madness, today’s kids consider today’s anti-smoking and anti-illegal-drug education to be a joke. Start by driving a stake through D.A.R.E.’s heart and then come up with something kids will take seriously.

    Some support from Congress might be useful, but that won’t happen until we get a Senate President who doesn’t think smoking is good for you.