Tobacco Legislation Is a Sneaky Big Government Play

Before you sigh, “Not another anti-anti-smoking article,” this issue represents the state vs. the people in microcosm.  It appears to be the perfect way for Big Brother to seize authority to change the behavior of others.  The underdogs are outnumbered 3 to 1.  Perhaps 99.9% think the behavior is deleterious.  (“Science” says so.)  Many believe passionately that our action injures them physically.  At least as many believe our smoking costs “you” money “because we’re paying for your health care.”  (You aren’t in most cases and you should not be in any case.)  Who could be “for” smoking?

Smoking isn’t the issue.  Setting precedents is.  Once a people accept that a government has the right, far less the duty, to regulate our choices, deny us our right to make our own choices, and be responsible for our own actions, no one is safe.  State science decrees that red meat, butter, other fats, eggs, salt, insecticides, red wine, and numerous other items are “bad” for us.  Even when jihad is declared on something you think indispensable, your personal preferences still won’t be the issue.  That will remain freedom.  Freedom to make our own choices, pay for our own mistakes, freedom to take responsibility for our decisions.

The trouble with putting zealots in charge of anything–or even listening to them–is that they want to apply their pet ideas to every facet of life.  One begins to suppose there is a near-universal craving for a universal panacea.  Even I appear to be among that number because my idea of the solution to all of our woes is to get the government out of our lives, out of office buildings, and off the bloated payrolls.

The latest bright idea is that vast amounts of money will be saved if the government bans smoking/tobacco use in the military.  Well, there is a really bright idea.  The claims are that not allowing the troops to use tobacco will improve their health and lower costs.  My reaction to the latter point was a stunned, “Since when have the Democrats wanted to lower costs anywhere, at any time, for any reason?”  This is certainly a first.  It would be if those were the real reasons, instead of control.

Let’s start with a really quaint notion regarding a useless piece of paper known as the Constitution.  Such a ban makes tobacco a contraband substance.  Presumably the intent is not just to say, “You may not smoke in mess halls.  You may not smoke in barracks.  You may not smoke in public.  You may not smoke in the middle of battle.”  It appears that Ted Kennedy was not jesting when he said that all that was necessary to end smoking was just to outlaw it, even if the first part of the strategy was to hit menthol-smokers first.  (The “flavoring” always mentioned, by careful design, is “cherry,” but the one under attack is menthol, for the purpose of driving smaller companies out of business, as I have discussed before, and because most of us who smoke menthol cigarettes won’t smoke regular ones.)  This is reminiscent of recent city bans against smoking anywhere within twenty-five feet of a doorway, far less inside buildings!  It criminalizes smoking.  Never mind “the pursuit of happiness,” do we really want to encourage Big Brother to intrude further into anyone’s lifestyle?  In particular, do we want the Nanny State messing with the morale of our soldiers?

USA Today (which is not the world’s premium newspaper) cites, “Combat veterans are 50% more likely to use tobacco than troops who haven’t seen combat.”  They don’t tell us what the percentage of those who smoke is compared to the US average, which, until the price quintupled in the last ten years due primarily to taxes, was 28% for a couple of decades.  All of those who were going to be deterred by scare tactics left long ago.  Mr. Obama’s ten dollar hike did several percentage points in; they can’t pay for it again around all of the other prices going up.

I grew up in the military and was a military wife.  While I am certainly a smoker, no one is going to send me into combat, so I have no personal interest here, nor am I promoting smoking.  It has come to restrict my life annoyingly, as in not being able to get on airplanes.  The “choice” foisted on me is whether to smoke or whether to fly.  No problem.  Smokes win.

Smoking is a personal choice–oh, wait, is this like abortion, in that it should be “legal, but rare?”  Apparently not.  My concern is entirely for the welfare of the troops, who have far more serious threats to their health than the putative damages of smoking.  Viet Nam was “our” war, and only a fiend would have denied kids living in the horror of jungles full of enemies from zero to four legs the comfort of a smoke.  Back then the things cost $1.25 a carton.  In WWII cigarettes were included in the field rations.  I imagine the effects of cigarettes are just as beneficial in Iraq and Afghanistan, soothing the nerves when there is a lull in the fighting or you’ve finally scraped out a relative measure of cover in the sand.  Why does anyone suppose that the kids who get shot at are 50% more likely to smoke?  Go get yourself attacked and ambushed, eat indifferent food, be hated by those in a place you never wanted to go, and watch your buddies be destroyed by sniper fire, land mines, hand grenades, and artillery shells, and you might find yourself reaching for a cigarette, too.  Gum isn’t going to cut it in those situations.  Enlisted men, in particular, and cigarettes are pretty much a combination.  I think we can predict that a lot of the more seasoned NCO’s will refuse to re-up.  I stopped to consult Asia, a combat veteran, who didn’t think much of the idea, either.  MDC said calmly, “I would probably have left the military.”  He did thirty years.

Health.  Ah.  We won’t discuss the effects of Agent Orange, Post Traumatic Stress, or being struck by shrapnel.  I’m going to go with the theory that smoking is to this era as sex was to Victorians, the ultimate evil which must be destroyed.  It has long been fashionable to ascribe virtually all diseases to smoking.  We’ve been hearing that line since C. Everett Koop, and although the percentage of smokers has been cut in half, the diseases attributed to smoking not only become more numerous with every passing year, but the incidence of them continues to rise.  “Oh!”  exclaimed the AMA.  “Second-hand smoke!”  Very few people are exposed to second-hand smoke, friends.  We smokers are far more likely to die of heat prostration, pneumonia, mugging, or drive-by shootings by being sent outside like naughty children.

Costs?  We’re back to the Democrats’ ploy of “think of a really big number.”  They fling “statistics” around with no regard for truth, science, or even any sort of scientific proof.  Remember science?  That’s how we used to determine cause and effect, back before the witch-hunting mentality returned.  The claim is that “Tobacco use costs the Pentagon $846 million a year in medical care and lost productivity.”  Oh?  Determined how?  By what standards?  The guys are standing around smoking and joking instead of working?  I thought the claim was that evil tobacco killed swiftly, so what was the “medical care” portion spent on, burned fingers from lighters?  That’s not good math, it isn’t good statistics, and I don’t believe it.  I don’t believe that “The Department of Veterans Affairs spends up to $6 billion in treatments for tobacco-related illnesses, says the study, which was released late last month.”  Why?  Because nobody defines “tobacco-related illnesses,” or provides a little pie chart.  Are we talking about emphysema and cancer?  Have we got any studies?  Have we got any real proofs of causal relationships?  Our dentist told me that smoking causes periodontal disease!  By constricting blood vessels in the mouth.  Chuckle.  When I was in my thirties and really rather attractive, an Army dentist told me that my dental health would be improved by having an affair with him!  I decided to stick with more usual protocols.  (Pity no one told me then that tooth sensitivity is caused by the fluoride which laces our public water supplies and most toothpaste brands.  Try switching to a good non-fluoride toothpaste such as Tom’s for a tube and see if yours doesn’t decrease.  Only the detested “anecdotal” evidence, but I was told that, tried it, and it works for me.)

It is accepted as holy writ that smoking causes everything from ingrown toenails to hair falling out.  The doctors say so.  The AMA says so.  Where’s the proof?  “Linda!  You can’t challenge that!  Everybody knows that…”

I’m not “everybody.”  I’m me.  I will have been a smoker for forty years this fall, and am up to three packs a day.  People restricting me always leads to an increase.  My darling Charles has been a heavy smoker longer than that.  My foreman is 50 and has smoked since he was very young, and our other hand is 54 and has, as well.  Among the four of us we number exactly two prescription medications:  I have a low thyroid, which escaped being stigmatized as a “tobacco-related disease” somehow, and to my dismay his doctor has MDC on Lipitor for a cholesterol level I would like to see higher.  (What the much misquoted Framingham study showed was that those most at risk were men with cholesterol under 170!  Cholesterol is actually good stuff, a subject for another day.)  Other than that he got an absolutely splendid report on his physical Wednesday.  Glittering blood work!  Charles’ levels were down, again, and the doctor asked him what he had been doing.  Charles used that patented Robert Mitchum sleepy “bad boy” smile of his and replied truthfully that he had been eating a lot of butter, eggs, and red meat, and consuming un-homogenized, unpasteurized milk!  (Also a subject for another day.)  Precisely how much healthier does anyone think MDC will be if he quits smoking, which would make both of us miserable?

We all drink, we all eat a great deal of butter, eggs, and red meat.  We fry potatoes and eggs in bacon grease (delicious), and we produce a lot of that around here.  Freddie thinks that bacon and pork chops are one of the three basic food groups.  Half our group is black, three-quarters is male…and I admit we haven’t reached the James Linda minimum for proving that lime juice prevents scurvy.  Oh, wait, yes we have.  He gave seven sailors various diets, two of them including limes, and those were the men who didn’t come down with scurvy.  Here’s an interesting, undeniable statistic:  in every case, those who are Linda or live with Linda lead happy, healthy lives.  I’m probably the cure for heart disease, stroke, aneurysm, depression, dyspepsia, boredom, Alzheimer’s, frustration, and the heartbreak of psoriasis.  Perfect record.

Cigarettes actually have three verifiable effects:  they annoy the whey out of most of you because of the smell; they have become ruinously expensive; they destroy 20 mg. of vitamin C each.  Those of us who take our ascorbic acid a minimum of four times a day don’t have any problem with the only health threat, although the other two factors are serious.

Having tilted at a windmill far stronger than I, I want to thank a marvelous reader for sending us a quote from Heraclitus, circa 500 B.C.

“Of every One-Hundred men, Ten shouldn’t even be there,
Eighty are nothing but targets, Nine are real fighters…
We are lucky to have them…They make the battle,
Ah, but the One, One of them is a Warrior…
and He will bring the others back.”

I had planned on putting this in whatever I chose to write about, but it is sheer, amusing circumstance that the topic turned out to be abuse of tobacco users.   What if “the one” (which isn’t referring to the likes of Mr. Obama) is a smoker?

Unrepentant regards,
Linda Brady Traynham

July 13, 2009