From pediatric disease to profit center — that, in a nutshell, is how smoking has changed in the eyes of the anti-tobacco warriors.
In 1995, the Food and Drug Administration declared war on cigarettes, claiming that smoking had its roots in childhood addiction. Now President Clinton has unveiled a new weapon — a federal lawsuit based on a legal theory his attorney general once disclaimed.
The federal suit would seek to recover the costs that smoking-related illnesses allegedly impose on Medicare and other federal programs. But in fact, smokers more than pay their own way.
A 30-year-old, two-pack-a-day smoker has a life expectancy of about eight years less than a nonsmoker. As a result, he will likely draw far less money out of Social Security and require far less in way of expensive long-term-medical care. When you add this to the cigarette taxes smokers pay, the "social costs" of smoking turn into a fiscal gain.
Clinton blamed advertising as the industry's tool for hooking children. But such charges
have a curious way of disappearing whenever the industry signs away its free speech rights. When Minnesota settled its tobacco lawsuit last summer, its then-attorney general, Hubert Humphrey III, launched a high-profile tobacco billboard demolition campaign. But in November, right after the nationwide state tobacco deal, Humphrey suddenly announced that, given the experience of countries with tobacco ad bans, "limits on advertising may not make much difference." In short, freedom of speech went up in smoke for no reason whatsoever.
Other anti-smoking charges don't fare any better. Industry deception? Despite all the industry's nonsense downplaying the dangers of smoking, polls demonstrate that the public clearly understands those risks. Nicotine manipulation? Many health advocates have argued that, for those who smoke, high-nicotine, low-tar cigarettes are the least-dangerous choice; they deliver the nicotine smokers crave with the smallest amount of harmful tar.
A federal lawsuit won't protect children from tobacco. It will demonstrate, however, that when it comes to government, tobacco revenues are far more addictive than nicotine.