Tobacco Use

Tobacco Use

The definitive history of the 20th century will not deal kindly with the United States, which has condoned the world's worst man-made scourge: tobacco use, which annually ends nearly twice as many American lives as are ended together by alcohol use, cocaine use, heroin use, homicide, suicide, car accidents, fires, and AIDS.

The extreme agonies of those dying from lung cancer or emphysema are reminiscent of the tortures induced in inmates of Nazi concentration camps. At a projected annual death toll of 10 million, by the year 2020 tobacco use will have become the world's leading avoidable cause of disease and death. This plague endures because an atavistic industry insists on dispensing nicotine as a constituent of a noxious complex of more than 4,700 extraneous chemicals instead of following the established practice of pharmaceutical companies -- isolating the active ingredient and formulating a clean product -- or developing a nontoxic nicotine substitute.

Because the free-enterprise system falters when addiction enters the equation, the responsibility for defending the health of the public falls ultimately on government. But those in power are either gagged by tobacco money or not sufficiently realistic and sincere to meet the industry's insidious schemes head on.

To award Big Tobacco legal immunity and caps on liability in exchange for concessions that are only questionably beneficial in terms of Americans health, first, deprives injured parties of their constitutional right to litigate -one of the most effective tools to date in public health policymaking -- and, second, is as absurd as granting freedom to a serial killer in return for his promise to limit his killings.

Since the tobacco industry cannot survive unless it continues to make young people lifelong smokers, no measure short of getting it to commit voluntary suicide will ever remove children from its preferred-target list. The only certain way to stop the slaughter is to outlaw the marketing of tobacco products. Regrettably, legislators deem this proposition totally unrealistic, and the majority of health professionals have not seriously considered it.

Hence, the outlook is grim for the health of the public -- but bright for the tobacco industry and those who profit from its wheeling and dealing.

Some economists, looking to the "positive" side, point out that because smoking decreases life spans, it has a restrictive effect on social security payouts in the United States -- and on population growth and food consumption in developing countries. Perhaps, after another 20-30 million people have died from tobacco use, an international tribunal will review the matter.

American Council on Science and Health, Inc.

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By K.H. Ginzel

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