WHAT TO DO ABOUT TOBACCO!

The proposed settlement with the tobacco industry has foundered on the modified provisions Senator McCain and his committee generated. In addition to raising the price tobacco was to agree to pay by $148 billion over 25 years to $516 billion, the liability cap on individual lawsuits was raised to $6.5 billion dollars a year, and a clause was inserted that penalizes the tobacco industry $3.5 billion a year if teenaged smoking exceeds a given percentage. The cost of a pack of cigarettes was also to climb $1.10 over the next five years. Indeed, it was so harsh our tobacco industry accused the Congress of blowing smoke.

Steve Goldstone, the chairman of RJR Nabisco withdrew the conditional agreement that had been given for the original pact, saying the revision would bankrupt the industry. He intends to mount a legal defense against government suits rather than to admit partial liability and negotiate a settlement. Big tobacco is talking tough, and behind its First Amendment right of free speech, has insinuated it will continue sophisticated advertising whose purpose is to make dedicated smokers of America's young.

Heated arguments, both pro and con, have resounded through the media. Smokers resent being soon forced to pay far more for cigarettes than they now do in the name of saving America's young from tobacco's evils. They feel they have been relegated to second class citizenship, and that they are being denied their constitutionally guaranteed freedom. Moreover, they believe the community of smokers is under siege by strident militants who cleverly conceal their dictatorial agenda by pretending a noble love for children. Smokers simply consider it their right to light up anywhere and anytime they want without restrictions.

On the flip side, non-smokers, in addition to their dislike of breathing others' second-hand smoke, resent paying higher insurance premiums and taxes that occur when a significant fraction of long-term smokers requires expensive medical care or becomes functionally disabled as a result of their addictive indulgence. Many non-smokers would prefer to make the sale of tobacco products and smoking illegal, but they realize our vast personal freedoms prohibit the outlaw of smoking. Data on the risk of injury by second-hand smoke is unclear, but there is no question asthmatics and sensitive individuals cannot tolerate even trace amounts of smoke. Of only one thing can we be sure: both sides sincerely dislike each other; big tobacco is not going to part with its golden calf; and tobacco farmers and workers in the industry are not going to convert to crops and jobs that don't pay as well. Our country is at loggerheads. We are ready to fight another civil war over Puff, the magic dragon, and America's children are going up in smoke. The question we need answered is how can we prevent our children from taking up smoking without denying smokers their constitutional rights? No-one has a sensible solution except the writer, and he will offer it now.

Long ago, there was a little boy who sometimes spent summers with his grandmother in Peoria, then a day's journey from his home in Chicago. His grandfather worked on the Alton railroad as a freight conductor, and was gone for two or three days at a time. That left the eight or nine year old boy alone with his wonderful, good-hearted, and doting grandmother, who would sometimes take him to their little cabin on Spring Lake near Pekin. When she visited friends or drove to the grocery store, ten miles away, he would roam the woods or fish on the lake, or pinch his grandfather's old, smelly, corn cob pipe. There was cut tobaccco nearby, and he would tamp some in the pipe bowl as he had seen his grandfather do. Then he would carefully take one of the large kitchen matches used for the stove, and try to light and smoke his pipe. The lighting was tricky and smoking difficult, but he still remembers the feeling that he had suddenly become an adult by doing adult things. There were no Joe Camels or Marlboro Men then, nor did he need them. Life was good, he couldn't even spell mortality, disease was something that happened over in India, and illness and poor health were an infinity away. What saved him?

Fate, benevolent providence, or a loving God took pity on him one day and caused him to look at chewing tobacco, which was on the shelf beside the pipe he so carefully replaced each time he used it. Here was something that could be quickly appropriated and used, tobacco that required no preparation, tamping, or lighting. He pulled off a chunk, took it out to the woods, placed it in his mouth and briefly chewed. Now this was an ignorant, unworldly little boy, perhaps if the truth be known, a bit stupid. He had chewed gum before, liked the flavor, and swallowed the sweet fluid that came while he chewed. Knowing only that, he figured the tobacco cud must work the same way, and swallowed the saliva billowing in his mouth.

When he had finished retching, the awful pain began to subside from his head and stomach, and the fire had left his mouth, that no-longer totally ignorant little boy was a lifetime non-smoker. It didn't take a lecture, nor added taxes on cigarettes, nor seeing people incapacitated with emphysema, lung cancer, or arteriosclerosis, nor a government program to make him quit. If you want to save a child from the evils of smoking, introduce him gently to Bull Durham, lie to him with a clear conscience, and tell him it is just like Wrigley's chewing gum. Unless he or she is infinitely more stupid than the little boy 58 years ago, a very unlikely circumstance, you will have made a convert.

One thing more: don't indite me for child abuse. My father, a lifelong smoker, died of lung cancer when he was 71. You have just read why his son did not follow in his footsteps.


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