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Monday, June 9, 2014

The Tobacco Wars

I wrote this essay years ago, in college, not knowing at the time who was responsible for the huge tobacco subsidies going to many of our tobacco farmers. The culprit turned out to be John Boehner. Special thanks to The Young Turks for the enlightenment.

Ideas are like seeds that are scattered on the ground in the hopes that they will take root, grow and eventually blossom into actual solutions to our problems. Some of them will begin to grow and flourish in our hearts and minds, while others may never take root at all.

I took what I considered to be a few possible strategies for dealing with the problem of smoking, coupled with factual data that was available to me at the time, and added a few personal insights of my own.

This essay was not intended to be an exhaustive answer to the problem of cigarette smoking but served its purpose at the time. As many are aware, we now heavily tax cigarettes in the United States. If any of these ideas prove useful to someone then this paper has more than served its purpose.

                                          The Tobacco War

       "The U.S.Centers for Disease Control and prevention has estimated that 400,000

Americans die each year from lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and other

diseases attributable to smoking--making it the leading cause of premature, preventable

deaths in the United States" (Dudley 285). In 1993, treating illnesses related to

cigarette smoking cost the United States around $50 billion. What makes cigarette

smoking such a tragedy is that these deaths and other related problems are

completely preventable.

       Joseph L. Andrews Jr., an internist and chest specialist in Concord, Massachusetts,

like many Americans, concerned about the loss of countless lives each year, has decided

to do something about it. He wrote a twelve-step plan to help solve the problem of

tobacco use. In the following text, this writer will support a multi-step approach to

ending tobacco abuse, which includes changes in the laws and policies toward

corporations and tobacco farmers, respectively, and includes making tobacco producers

list ingredients on all cigarette packages.

       Some people say that the problem should be corrected by teaching our children to

be more responsible. This is an excellent point, but one must remember that we adults 

make our share of mistakes and children are no less entitled to making their own. For 

sure, as parents, we must teach our children well, and it stands to reason that parents 

want to teach their children how to make good, sound decisions.

       Yet, there is more we can do to protect them. For one, we should not allow them 

to be virtually bombarded by billions of dollars worth of tobacco advertising each year. 

According to the Non-Smokers' Movement of Australia, children smoke more of the 

brands that are most heavily advertised; and, "a major scientific analysis of all the 

literature on the effects of cigarette advertising concluded that a preponderance of 

quantitative studies of cigarette advertising suggest a causal relationship with 


       One author wrote, "The time has come, then for public policy toward tobacco to return

to its roots. The only effective way of combating the harmful effects of smoking in the

long run is to encourage an enduring sense of personal responsibility--among smokers,

their families, and physicians" (Calfee 306). John E. Calfee is a resident scholar at the

American Enterprise Institute. This author agrees with his assessment, but would argue

there is much more that needs to be done in the here and now to protect children and

adults alike.

       For example, since tobacco companies have a long history of concealing the 

adverse effects of smoking along with the addictive nature of nicotine, they should be 

penalized for not showing all of the ingredients of cigarettes on each package (Andrews 

296). In effect, "...Laws would require tobacco companies to make public their scientific 

studies and list all chemical ingredients on packaging, as is done with most other consumer 

products" (296). Jean Kilbourne, PhD, asserts that, "Cigarettes are the only product

advertised which are lethal when used as intended." Cigarettes, in fact have scores of

ingredients which are harmful to humans, including carbon monoxide.

       Second, tobacco companies' ads and promotions should be discouraged more strongly

than is presently the case. According to Andrews, cigarette companies spend billions of

dollars each year in advertising and promotions (297). He went on to say, "This includes

their sponsorship of sporting events, such as Winston Cup Racing, and their use of

billboards in baseball and football stadiums and basketball and hockey arenas (297)."

These billboards are seen by millions of people through the miracle of television. Laws

could be enforced which require the stoppage of this form of advertising.

       Even if these laws are proven to be unconstitutional, pressure could be brought to

bear on advertising media to refuse to air key types of advertising (Andrews 297). One

example of this type of pressure is the fact that condom ads are rarely seen in the

advertising media these days. While this writer does not have an opinion as to whether

condom ads are good or bad, the pressure against these ads has been effective and can

be applied to the advertising media when it comes to smoking, also.

       Third, there should be incentives for farmers to switch from tobacco to food crops.

According to the Worldwatch Institute's 1997 report, there is so much hunger in the world

that governments would be serving their citizens well if they encouraged tobacco farmers

to switch over to crops like wheat and corn (Andrews 293). The report says that fifteen

million tons of grain could be produced each year for humans to consume, instead of

going hungry. Andrews explains, "Right now, about 124,000 tobacco farmers in the

United States depend on a federal system that parcels out shares of the total tobacco

production." He adds, "This restriction of cultivated tobacco acreage has the paradoxical

effect of artificially making the crop highly profitable" (293). What is our government


       In conclusion, in today's world it is not uncommon to hear people say the only thing

people need to give their children is the ability to make good, sound decisions.

Unfortunately, this question, along with many others, has been pondered,

unsuccessfully, on the earth for thousands of years, and societies are no closer to an

answer, today, than we were way back then, as evidenced by the fact that the survival

of our entire species is now threatened by our own actions.

       What is known is that smoking has caused the premature deaths of more people in

the last century than all of the senseless deaths caused by warfare. That is, smoking has

caused more deaths than the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and countless others, combined.

This is a truly astounding fact. It isn't hard to find countless pages of information in our

history books devoted to chronicling the ravages of warfare. Yet, how many Americans

and, especially, those unsuspecting citizens of underdeveloped nations around the globe,

are aware of the fact that we are fighting another battle that is proving to be just as costly

to us all?

       It was Andrews who put it best, "After I wheeled the bodies of dead lung cancer

victims to the morgue and watched as the pathologist sliced white golf ball- or melon-sized

tumors out of blackened lungs, I reviewed the patients' charts" (289). He states the

following, and I quote, "The conclusion was crystal clear even then{in the fifties}:all the

lung cancer victims had a previous history of heavy smoking for many years" (Ibid).

       Clearly stated, the idea of leaving intact an industry whose product is fatal when used as

intended--an industry that would just as soon make every human on earth dependent on

that product makes no sense at all.

Works Cited

       Andrews, Joseph L. Jr. “Public Health Policy Should Emphasize Corporate Responsibility.”

       Opposing Viewpoints in Social Issues. Ed. William Dudley. San Diego: Greenhaven 2000.

       Calfee, John E. “Public Health Policy Should Emphasize Individual Responsibility.” Opposing Viewpoints in Social Issues. Ed. William Dudley. San Diego: Greenhaven 2000.

       Dudley, William, ed. “Chapter Preface.” Opposing Viewpoints in Social Issues.

       Kilbourne, Jean, PhD. “Targets of Cigarette Advertising.” Health Ministries Department General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventist. 16 June 2006

       Non-Smokers’ Movement of Australia. “Fact Sheet-Tobacco Advertising” 16 June 2006

(The Young Turks' Cenk Uygur on John Boehner's Crying and Tobacco Subsidies)

(Noam Chomsky - (Why Marijuana is Illegal and Tobacco Is Legal)

(Noam Chomsky - (On "War on Drugs," Tobacco and Marijuana)

“All my life I have tried to pluck a thistle and plant a flower wherever the flower would grow in thought and mind.”

--Abraham Lincoln