TOBACCO ROAD TO ETERNITY

The overwhelmingly tragic, post-death drama of Jean Connor has played out its mortal flashback, and her ghost painfully limped for the last time from our view to its eternal reward. In Florida, a five woman, one man jury exonerated R J Reynolds and the tobacco Industry from financial and perhaps even ethical responsibilty for her death. With indisputable logic and rationality, the jury decided she was aware of and elected to take the personal risk rather than stop smoking. Tobacco stocks were pushed up several points late that afternoon by elated investors when the news hit Wall Street.

I cannot question the fact that the law was strictly applied to the facts of the case. It was. Jean Connor undoubtedly knew there was a health risk involved if she kept smoking. But Jean Connor, unlike Ebeneezer Scrooge in Dicken's Christmas Carol, never had the advantage of the Ghost Of The Christmas Future to show her the videos that would later be taken of her painfully faltering steps and bald head. If she had, I am sure she would have thrown her cigarette away and never lighted another.

You see, I was a scientist, and learned that data involving masses of interacting things can only be described in terms of probabilities. Of all the young people like Jean Connor who learned to smoke because it was adult, sophisticated, and glamorous, no-one could put an X on her foreheqd and single her out for the death she experienced. She had the assurance of the numbers game that the roll of the dice, the cylinder of the gun with which she was playing Russian roulette, would not come up against her. Probably seven people out of ten could do what she did and still live until they were seventy, although heart disease, stroke, and emphysema might lessen the quality of their later years. She didn't make the cut.

What lesson, if any, will smokers learn from her untimely, graphically painful and prolonged death? The answer is: probably none. Let us not misunderstand. Adults who have smoked for a decade or more, the probabalistic Jean Connors' to come, are well along the path of their individual Christmas Futures. Only their own intervention can save them, and nicotine addiction makes that intervention unlikely. And the young? Well, a 49 year old is a Methuselah to youths of sixteen or seventeen. At that stage, thirty two years into the future seems like infinity, and they have no fear of anything looming that far away. Making them believe smoking is dangerous and possibly lethal is difficult. Nevertheless, to the extent we can, we had better focus our efforts on America's young before they begin smoking heavily and become addicted .

What beguiles our young to begin a habit that is expensive, results intitially in a cough and bad taste in the mouth, and ultimately may lead to heart disease, stroke, emphysema, and lung cancer? To the young, smoking is a defiant sign of growing up, a symbol of independence. By the time the novelty of asserting one's will has passed, king nicotine has begun its addictive dominance, and putting aside the weed is not easy.

Tobacco's marketing experts create seductive calls that caress the ears and psyche of impressionable youngsters. They are subtle, differing from the obvious sterotypes used for decades to advertise cigarettes. The Marlboro Man is gone, replaced by Joe Camel, a not-so-transparent marketing tool of the tobacco industry to hook the very young. Years ago, the slogan was, "I'd walk a mile for a camel." Today, Joe Camel offers them a ride. No longer does Johnny, the diminutive bellhop, call for Phillip Morees. No longer does anyone come all the way up with Kools. Today's ads to get people hooked on cigarettes are more sophisticated, and they appeal to a person's right to choose what he or she does, the freedom to act grownup. Our tobacco industry realizes seeding the young is its best hope of future profits, and that is where the planting tqkes place.

As the family of Jean Connor found out, getting a murder conviction from an illness said to be caused by smoking cigarettes is almost impossible. The prosecution had videos showing a pathetically ill victim. Some of them were so upsetting the judge ruled they could not be shown to the jury. Despite the emotional content of the prosecution's case, the verdict went against them. In essence, trying to get a jury to convict the tobacco industry of complicity in the death of a smoker is similar to the following situation. Would it be possible to find a person guilty of killing another if he pulled out a gun and shot seven people, not one of whom was harmed or bothered for 35 years until one of them gradually sickened and died? The connection is tenuous, certainly not a directly linked cause and effect, and only a faint residue of ash remains from the smoking gun when the victim drops. Yet, the aggregate medical costs of treating and caring for incapacitated and hospitalized long-term smokers is estimated to be in the range of $50B a year. These so-called free choices add up, and the individuals taking the same risk Jean Connor was found by the jury to have taken often are not financially responsible. Consequently, Medicaid expends general tax revenues to pay the expenses of indigent smokers, or those without medical insurance.

Numerous states have recently initiated suits against tobacco companies for repayment of patient costs expended under Medicaid. Long-withheld documents provided by Liggett in its settlement have been ruled admissible by the courts and will be used by the states to prove their claims. The documents appear to implicate the industry by stating it knew nicotine was addictive and that smoking or chewing tobacco caused health problems including lung cancer. Successful prosecution of these suits will not be easy, but may at last be possible.

Beyond the cadre of lawyers defending their clients' vested interests, and the enormous sums of money involved, the fragile ghost of Jean Connor lurches on, as though hobbled in chains. There is almost no degree of pathos the practical mind of man cannot rationalize.


Sam Orr sorr@metrolink.net
World Traveler
and Philanthrope
(Location Unknown)