Tell Big Tobacco to clean up the chemical soup
As the Colorado Legislature eyes a statewide ban on smoking in public places, I thought it might be time to chime in.I’ve always felt conflicted about what some rednecks and right-wingers derisively refer to as “social engineering.” (Defined by these critics as liberal do-gooders swarming like locusts all over some social problem as if it were a budding field of late-summer wheat.)The do-gooders, these critics loudly proclaim, do everything wrong in their drive to right social, political or economic wrongs. For example, in an effort to help the institutionalized poor make ends meet, the do-gooders invented the “welfare state” and made lazy, overly dependent slobs out of an entire class of people.This view conveniently ignores the fact that the welfare state, as we know it, was invented in the late 1800s for the benefit of rich corporations, including tobacco companies, and not for the poor.The multitudinous poor in those days got precious little help from the federal and state governments. In fact, they generally went unnoticed by their government until corporate chieftains started complaining about worker demands cutting into profits. At that point the only help the militant, unionizing poor could expect from their government was a rude shove back into the poorhouse, or into the grave after being shot or clubbed to death by federal troops.And the poor have not been much better off since, even when the do-gooders came up with social legislation meant to balance the national tilt toward extreme wealth in the hands of very few people.Flash forward to today, and the bizarre spectacle of society turning on one of those corporations that benefited from the 19th-century welfare state mentality in Washington, D.C. I’m talking about the tobacco industry, or “Big Tobacco,” as it is called by anti-smoking activists, too many of whom are reformed smokers with an absolutist, self-righteous zeal.Now I’m your basic occasional smoker. I roll my own out of organic, untreated tobacco and smoke mainly at home (I like a puff after a meal, with a glass of Scotch whisky in hand), or at a bar if I can find one that will let me be. But I smoke so seldom that friends and even my dental hygienist have been surprised to learn I smoke at all.My moderate smoking habits aside, I have long decried Big Tobacco’s ruination of a relatively easygoing bad habit by adulterating the tobacco with a chemical soup that has irredeemably poisoned the ready-made cigarette. And I have long believed that smokers of those poisoned coffin nails were a good example of a subgroup in our population who clearly did not know what was good for them.But now I find myself in a strange alliance with these forcefully addicted, poisoned souls. I resist anyone trying to take my smokes away for my own good. Borrowing a line from another individualistic, anti-do-gooder movement with dubious roots and debatable methods: The only way they’ll get my butts is if they pry them from my cold, dead fingers.Among the ills of this anti-smoking social phenomenon is the growing roster of advertisements for smoking cessation aids, most of which really are pure scam. They rank right up there with Big Tobacco’s PR-driven conversion to the camp that says, “Smoking is bad for you, but it’s your choice,” and the industry’s cynical use of campaigns supposedly aimed at keeping kids from picking up that first cigarette while at the same time doing everything they can to get kids hooked.”But wait,” I can hear the reader saying, “I thought you were commiserating with the downtrodden smokers!”I was, but not with Big Tobacco.Where I think the anti-smoking frenzy has gone wrong is in its basic intent. Some people have enjoyed smoking since tobacco (not to mention a few other smokables) was discovered, some will always enjoy it. And some smokers undoubtedly will get sick and die because of complications from their habits (I should say right here that I don’t buy all the second-hand smoke arguments.).The trouble is, Big Tobacco has in its greed turned cigarettes into something more addictive than heroin and, I think, more damaging than it originally was, by deliberately mixing in an array of adulterants that hooks people more firmly than mere tobacco ever could.I’ve got a feeling that if Big Tobacco was forced to drop the chemical additives, there would be fewer smokers, less smoking-related disease and less vibrant hysteria about it all.But, of course, Big Tobacco is not about to change its evil ways, unless made to do so either by legislation (a bad idea) or commercial pressure from consumers (a good idea) who want their tobacco cleared of the chemical soup.The unfortunate fact in all this is that the corporations that have ruled this country since the mid-1800s figured out early on that if they kept us confused enough to fight among ourselves, we would never realize we’d been had by a bunch of greedy monopolists and their mouthpieces.And they were right.John Colson is a reporter for The Aspen Times who didnt start smoking tobacco until he was 20, and is glad he didnt because he was a runt until about that age anyway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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