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Let’s beat up smokers and feel good

THE big push to get Americans to live healthier continues. We biggie-size the verbiage just like the drive-throughs biggie-size the drinks.

Fat gave way to overweight, which gave way to obese, which was upgraded to morbidly obese; our language expands with American waistlines.

By any measure, though, as a nation we are not exactly svelte.

So we tell ourselves as we munch our cheese doodles that at least we don't smoke.

Well, 80 percent of the adult population in America does not smoke and that makes us feel better about ourselves.

Every society has a caste system of some sort. And there is always somebody at the bottom who the rest of us dump on.

We chose smokers.

In January 1964, the surgeon general declared smoking hazardous to one's health.

Television networks weaned themselves from tobacco ads over the next seven years, and eventually magazines did as well.

Gradually smokers became the most reviled group in America. We pushed them outdoors, in the rain, to smoke.

To be sure, the anti-smoking effort was the biggest and most successful public health initiative since the polio vaccine.

The population has doubled, but the number of smoking-related deaths continues to be around 450,000 people a year.

Besides, beating up smokers is fun sport.

The Food and Drug Administration just ordered tobacco companies to put ghoulish images on their cigarette packs as a warning to smokers of the dire consequences that are possible if you smoke.

This seems to be more about humiliating a group of people than getting anyone to quit.

So why does the FDA not simply ban smoking? Smokers have had two generations to rid themselves of the habit.

There is no reason for anyone under 60 to smoke. The government warned them. Now would be a good time to ban cigarettes and yet we will not.

Besides, society needs smokers, because they pay hefty taxes to the government.

Smokers are cash cows.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids estimates that for every 10 percent rise in taxes, there is a 4 percent drop in smokers.

What a terrific setup.

Need money? Increase the cigarette tax with the ironic excuse that this is to get smokers to quit when you know not many of them will.

The federal government alone makes $1.01 a pack from smokers.

States now average $1.45 a pack.

Add in the tobacco settlement - a de facto tax on smokers - and you have smokers shelling out $3 a pack just in taxes.

R.J. Reynolds estimated its profits are 30 cents a pack.

So when I see these anti-smoking commercials and editorial page cartoons denouncing big tobacco companies, I wonder why they do not show the politicians greedily using their profits from cigarette to buy golf carts in New York, metal detectors for schools in Alabama and the operating costs for a horse park in North Carolina.

That is how some of the tobacco tax money is spent, according to R.J. Reynolds, which obviously has an interest in the matter.

I would rather see more of the money go to lung cancer research.

We should be able to get the five-year survival rate up from 15 percent to, say, the 86 percent rate for breast cancer.

But no one is holding any races for the cure and they do not have football players wear yellow helmets - for the color of a smoker's fingers - during Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

Smokers are to be reviled, not aided.

For besides the money, there is a psychological reason we need smokers in America: They make good punching bags.

One of the reasons I and most other people beat up on that congressman from New York who sent that vulgar picture to the college student was that it made me feel better about myself.

I have done a lot of dumb things, but I have not done anything that dumb. Therefore, I am superior.

And so we will continue to vilify smokers, shun them, and send them outside to indulge their filthy habit.

We need the money - and the self-satisfaction of being "better" than someone else.

Surber may be reached at His blog is at



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