No-Smoking Crusade Is Not So Pure

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JERRY HEASTER:
No-smoking crusade is not so pure

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By JERRY HEASTER - Columnist
Date: 04/17/98 22:15

Warning: Heedless opposition to smoking can be hazardous to your moral health.

While many Americans may be deriving righteous comfort from their anti-smoking stance, they're fooling themselves if they think they're on the side of the angels.

This crusade isn't about saving children from tobacco enslavement. Nor is it about recouping tax money spent by government on health care for tobacco users. It's about greed, and greedy politicians will never be mistaken for angels.

Government not only seeks to enrich itself at the expense of tobacco consumers, but also sees its war against tobacco as an opportunity to expand police-state powers.

When the tobacco industry last year agreed to pay $368 billion in blackmail, it thought it was buying immunity from lawsuits. When the deal reached Capitol Hill, however, the bidding soared to an estimated half a trillion dollars.

For what" Who knows" Those leading this larcenous exercise imply the money will finance good works. But good or not, whatever government buys with this ill-gotten loot will be paid for by those least able to afford the tab.

It's no secret that smoking is a recreational pursuit enjoyed mostly on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. Thus, most of those who would pay the recently proposed extra taxes on cigarettes would bear an inordinate burden.

If your reaction to this inevitability is an approving nod accompanied by the thought that it's justified if it discourages smoking, you're taking more on yourself than is justified. The decision concerning someone else's tobacco use isn't your call to make. Nor is it the call of an elected official acting in your behalf. And, in the moral sense, this will be true as long as tobacco remains a legal product.

This is precisely where moral considerations and personal biases intersect in the smoking issue. If tobacco is as bad as its most outspoken opponents contend, its use should be legally prohibited.

So, why aren't legislators talking prohibition" In a word, money. The paradox of government's anti-smoking crusade is that if it ever worked, government wouldn't realize the hundreds of billions it hopes to gain from an industry it has helped transform into a symbol of evil.

Some 40 million Americans still smoke. Underage tobacco users are but a small fraction of the market. There are many less-intrusive ways to keep kids from smoking. They could be denied a driver's license, for instance, if caught smoking. This not only would discourage teen smoking, but also reduce teen-age death and injury on the highways. While smoking may or may not kill a kid in 40 years or so, improper use of a vehicle can kill them immediately and in much greater numbers.

Why isn't such a simple solution pursued" Simple. It can be done at the grass roots, which would cut Uncle Sam out of billions in taxes and extortion money from the industry. It also would deprive the federal government of the chance to establish another powerful bureaucracy.

At the human level, many adults seem to have forgotten about youth's rebellious nature. The more adults condemn smoking, the more many kids will be attracted to cigarettes. The unfortunate reason many adults can't understand this developmental truism is because when they grew up, they took on the meddlesome parental traits that bugged them most in their youth.

Jerry Heaster's column appears Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. To share a comment, call (816) 889-7827 and enter 2301. Send e-mail, including a telephone number, to jheaster@kcstar.com.

All content © 1998 The Kansas City Star


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