Smoke This

A Whatever reader has asked me to comment on this, in which a $145 billion judgment against several tobacco companies in a class action suit was reversed. The tone of the e-mail suggested my correspondent thinks that this overturning of the suit is a good thing; he suggested I entitle the entry: “Responsibility Upheld; Victimhood Suffers.”

I won’t be doing that. But I can’t say I can work up any sort of outrage against the decision being overturned. My general feeling about smokers has always been that everyone who started smoking after the inception of the Surgeon General’s warning on individual packs has really shaky ground to complain that they were mislead by the tobacco industry. When every pack sold in the US has a note on it that states explicitly that the product within is going to hurt you, the only people who have the legitimate claim that they didn’t know what they were getting into are the illiterate (and being nicotine addicts are the least of their problems).

More specifically, I’ve always thought anyone my age or younger should be totally banned from suggesting that they are anything less than entirely responsible for their own habit. I knew that cigarettes were bad for you almost before I knew what were cigarettes were; indeed, I can’t remember ever not knowing cigarettes were bad. People start smoking for lots of reasons, and they typically start before their brains are fully engaged on the repercussions of voluntarily starting an addictive habit. Be that as it may, let’s just say that anyone under the of age 40 in North America’s slate of excuses for starting smoking doesn’t include “I didn’t know it was bad.” I knew. They knew. We knew.

I am in fact fairly prejudicial about people who smoke, on a sliding scale. People who are over 40 who smoke, I pretty much give a pass. Everybody smoked before 1960. They gave cigarettes to pets. And so on. People between the age of 30 and 40 (i.e., “my age”) who smoke cause me to deduct between 10% to 30% off my initial impressions of their intelligence and common sense, depending. People between 20 and 30 who smoke I consider to be complete dumbasses until they prove themselves otherwise. Anyone who is under 20 and smoking should be thrown in a woodchipper, all the better to start again on the karmic wheel of rebirth, and hopefully this time they’ll be born with brain stems that connect.

Now, I would agree that the tobacco industry did a yeoman’s job of trying to convince young and all that smoking makes you alive with pleasure. But, you know, here’s the thing with that: Part of being a teenager, or at least part of being a teenager when I was growing up, was totally mistrusting everything an adult tried to sell you, ever, end of story. I always thought it was funny that cigarettes, of all products, managed to escape that particular injunction (bear in mind that I don’t think teenagers actually do mistrust everything adults try to sell them. Malls across the nation would collapse. But as a teen, you’re supposed to at least pretend). So, even while entirely agreeing that tobacco companies are evil and run by evil people who happily produce products that kill when used as directed, it still comes down to the person who lights up and sucks smoke into his or her lungs.

What I think we should do is what states and cities are doing, which is tax the Hell out of the vile little tubes, to pay for the uninsured joes who will inevitably stagger into the ERs with smoking-related heart attacks, strokes and whatnot. Insurance companies likewise should feel perfectly cool about jacking up the insurance rates of smokers so that when they do hack out their lungs at the end of a 30-year smoking career, they don’t overly burden the rest of us because of it. Social denigration? Groovy. Banning smoking everywhere but cold, windy sidewalks? Even better (I except bars. Because, honestly. You’re going to friggin’ drink. If you’re going to abuse your liver, you might as well abuse your lungs while you’re at it).

But as for suing the tobacco industry, well, I wouldn’t. Were I smoker and noticed one day that my lung capacity was clocking at about 30%, my first thought would not be How did this happen? And who can I sue? My first thought would be, Well, it’s here. I guess I should work on that will.

32 Comments on “Smoke This”

  1. Ah, a breath of fresh air, so to speak, on this subject. I find it very hard to defend big corporations on any grounds, but I’ve always thought that smokers suing the tobacco companies was a ridiculous notion, as ridiculous as those folks who tried to sue McDonald’s for making them fat. Sorry, folks, Ronald McD didn’t strap you to a table and shove Big Macs down your gullet. There are some issues for which the individual must accept personal responsibility. The buck does eventually stop here.

  2. “Part of being a teenager, or at least part of being a teenager when I was growing up, was totally mistrusting everything an adult tried to sell you, ever, end of story.”

    Unfortunately, the other part of being a teenager, and it’s the part that trumps your part up there, is the one that dictates “Do whatever pisses off your parents the most, and makes you look cool to your peers.”

    That said, selling cigarettes to teens is an easy task, sadly.

  3. So this means my grand plans for suing Burton for _making_ me snowboard leading to my broken hand are out the window then?

    Damn. Maybe I can get Nike and their curse-d running shoes….

  4. I’m still a little undecided on suing a company that claims their product is good, even in the face of overwhelming medical evidence. Its not like the tobacco companies werent spending money left and right funding studies that claimed that ciggarettes were great. It all tends to give one the impressions that, though there was a warning label, the companies were trying to convey the impression “They just make us put that on there for insurance reasons.”

    So, sure, if the company had come out and said “These things will frickin kill you”, I cant imagine suing them successfully. But when they pretend there nothing really wrong with the activity in question, do they open themselves to legal liability? Arent they, by even selling a product, implying that it is safe to use?

  5. I think that was the point of the lawsuit–that this is something which, when used according to design, actually and in all cases causes harm.

    I don’t know if that’s necessarily the case, though. I think it’s possible to use cigarettes–like many other drugs–in moderation. Seems to me the tobacco companies could at least make a case for smokers “overindulging” in a product which can be used safely in moderation–thereby transfering the responsibility back to the individual.


  6. Anyone who sues the tobacco industry because they claim they didn’t know cigarettes were bad for them pretty much deserves all the mockery they receive.

    But for those who tried to quit and couldn’t, and then found out the cigarette companies were secretly amping up the nicotine to specifically prevent them from quitting, I think the outlook changes considerably.

    As for bars, it is hardly clear that moderate alcohol consumption is even bad for you. Certainly not to the extent that moderate cigarette smoke inhalation is bad for you. Furthermore, there are people who make their living in bars and don’t necessarily drink or smoke. Some people go to bars for dancing. Some go for socializing, and may only drink soda. Some may be there for the comfy bar furniture, but they should probably consider hanging out in a furniture store instead.

  7. I always figured suing the tobacco companies for getting cancer was akin to suing the auto company because you drove your car into a tree while trying to do one of the cool stunts they do in the idiot car commercials. “Oh, look! This car can do 150mph on the salt flats! Maybe I should crank it up on the way home from the bar…” Everyone knows it’s a stupid thing to do, and if you die, well, that sounds like a personal problem.

    And about the second hand smoke thing: anyone out there wonder about how much nastiness they suck down while sitting in traffic every day on the way to/from work/school/soccer practice sitting behind (or in) that SUV?

  8. All theory and good intentions aside, past class-action law suits against the tobacco companies did little to benefit the victims. As money distributed to individual states was usually thrown in the states’ chop shops, otherwise, known as the general fund. In fact, my state had previous investments in tobacco stocks for the state’s employee retirement pool. Since the state was forced to unload the tobacco stocks, the bootlegged tobacco settlement monies began indirectly supplementing the retirement fund. The present tax per pack of cigarettes, which seem to be incremented quarterly, is already excessive and has all the earmarkings of double dipping. As it is, the tax adeqately covers projected medical costs which were suppose to be covered by the tobacco settlement. By the way, some of the sicknesses labeled as Joe Camel had other contributing causes, as well, which were never as ambitiously correlated. The purpose of high cigarette taxes (brand name cigarettes are between $5-$6 a pack) isn’t to provide a disincentive as much as it is an exercise in milking a herd of cash cows. Once an existing tax is raised to a point of windfall, state governments become addicts to the new revenue and such tolls are rarely reduced or reversed. The court’s decision (I speculate) addresses the issue of management of the tobacco settlement funds by statehoods or lawyerhoods. The court, I gather, chose to demur. But, nonetheless, the tobacco companies should still pay fines for their blatant misconduct. (I smoke a pack a day.)

  9. “Everybody smoked before 1960.” Yes, exactly so… maybe not literally, but it was certainly ubiquitous. That was the era in which I grew up, when cigarette advertising promised “not a cough in a car load” and “mild to the T zone” and “four out of five doctors who tried Camels went back to their wives” (oops, nope, that was a slogan we kids would repeat, along with our own definition of the meaning of “LS/MFT”) — when ads would actually suggest medical benefits to smoking (as an aid to digestion after meals, etc.)

    So I started smoking in 1955 at age 12, along with just about every other kid in my age group pack of young males in my blue collar neighborhood (I think the more upscale kids waited until they were in high school) despite the adult injunction that “smoking will stunt your growth” (yeah, sure, told to us by some six foot tall chain smoker)

    But by the time I was in high school (class of ’61) the Reader’s Digest was running its annual anti-smoking campaign, publishing charts of tar and nicotine content by brands, etc.

    I remained a heavy smoker (two or three packs of unfiltered Camels per day) until I finally quit in 1980 (I explain that I had to quit for health reasons — my wife said she’d kill me if I didn’t stop smoking!)

    I have fairly libertarian attitudes and I figure if people want to smoke, that’s their problem just as long as they don’t light up where I live or work (or eat) so that they force me to breathe in their smoke, fine, if you got ’em, smoke ’em.

    Just don’t whine about what it’s done to your health and say it’s all the fault of the big bad tobacco companies. Bull. Nobody can say they weren’t warned (and warned and warned… and warned…) Sure, it can be addictive (Believe me, I know!!!) — but it is possible to stop (again, I know) and nobody much younger than me can claim they didn’t know the facts before they started.

  10. Oh, for the younger crowd (and I guess that means most people) — LS/MFT was a key Lucky Strikes slogan for many years (gee, do they even make them any more? It’s hard to keep up without ads on tv and radio but they were once one of the leading brands) — It stood for “Luck Strikes Means Fine Tobacco” — but all junior high school students translated it as “Loose Sweater Means Flabby Tits”)

  11. You should see the warnings they put on cigarette packs in Canada. By law, the warning has to cover 50% of the package’s surface and usually includes an extremely graphic full-color photo of some sort of diseased body part. One of my favorites (the oral cancer one) is shown at the top of this CNN story:

  12. I would just like to throw in my 2 cents on the side of Jim’s argument. Whether or not to smoke is a personal choice and one for which the individual should take responsibility.

    The revenue from cigarette taxes and suits does not go to the ‘victims’ but, as Jim said, to the States who throw it into the Pork Barrel along with the rest of their plunder. The only way this helps victims is if you use a way liberal argument that says that society is the victim and the State represents society.

    I believe that you can roll this up into a trend along with the new push for seatbelt enforcement, and other legal stances (have you gotten a speeding ticket lately? The fine is about 20% of the total. The rest is tacked on fees), toward identifying a ‘culprit’ then heaping society’s woes on them. If you are a tobacco company, or are speeding, or are doing anything else that can be counted as a criminal, then you do not have the same rights as others. You can’t generate questionable revenue from popular groups. You need to find someone that doesn’t have a rhetorical (logic not an issue) leg to stand on. Then you demonize them and hammer them for all it’s worth.

    Has anyone noticed the extremely shaky logic in the TRUTH ad campaign where kids with megaphones dress up in rat costumes and scream slogans and quips out of the television? I honestly can’t see much point in that kind of tactic. It seems much less aimed at preventing smoking and more at pushing a certain characterization of tobacco companies.

    Tobacco companies are bastards. So are Oil companies, and just about and major corporation (how do you think they got so much money anyway?). But the answer is not to use legislation and civil suits to dictate people’s personal decisions. Sure it is more neat and orderly if opinions come from the collective, and much more convenient when it comes to high level management and strategy, but I would prefer not to have my life managed on an executive level.

    P.S. Yes, I know, second hand smoke is evil and kills more innocent people than if you inhale the smoke directly from the end of a cigarette. I am not saying that you should be able to smoke just anywhere. If you don’t choose to smoke, then you shouldn’t have to just because the guy next to you wants to. However, I don’t see why in some places a restaurant cannot legally have a smoking section or why in some areas people cannot smoke in a stadium. Is the goal to protect the non-smoker, or to make it less convienient to smoke causing fewer people to do it?

  13. I don’t think you should give a pass for people over 40. Even though smoking was ubiguitous before 1960, a 41 year old who started smoking at age 13 started smoking in 1975, and believe me, there were all the dire warnings then. If you must give a pass, give it to the smokers over 55.

    Some of the early law suits were from people who started smoking back when the cigarette companies were denying they caused any harm, and there was no government mandated warning label.

    Thr cigarrette companies fought long and hard against the warning labels, and continued to deny that cigarettes caused any harm. For the most part, that is the situation today.

    So we’ve got the gov’t and doctors telling us one thing, and the cigarette companies implying another. And lobbying really hard to get the laws changed, of course.

  14. Stephan just mentioned seatbelt laws — Rhode Island is now pushing a “click-it or ticket” campaign — If you are stopped for some traffic violation and you are not wearing your seatbelt you get another ticket for violating the mandatory seatbelt law.

    This was a topic of discussion on a local radio talk show this week — the host was complaining about this ticketing of unbelted drivers and ranted “what is this, a crime or something?” — duh, since the state legislature made wearing seatbelts mandatory several years ago, well, yes, it is a crime (or, to be technical, a violation).

    Now I happen to think that anybody who drives without buckling up is a moron (just as dumb and self-destructive as a smoker) — One point often made in favor of mandatory seatbelt laws is that belts help keep the driver in control of the car when taking violent evasive action to avoid an accident. Yeah, right, as if these losers have the requisite driving skills to successfully take evasive action. Yeah, I know, I call myself libertarian so why do I support mandatory seatbelt laws? Well… I don’t really support them. If someone chooses to be dumb, I don’t think the government should interfere with them. It could be a simple indicator on a driver’s license stating that you are excused from the mandatory seatbelt law and you have signed a release assuming all responsibility for any injuries you may suffer in a traffic accident — henceforth you can freely drive without a seatbelt but can never collect a dime from anyone for any injuries you receive. The same rule could apply to any adult passenger. If you want the freedom to drive without seatbelts, fine, I support that, just as long as you don’t expect others to pay for you if you are injured as a result of exercising that freedom. (Note that I said “adult” — people who fail to buckle up kids and use child safety seats are not just stupid, they are irresponsible and should face penalties.) And the same thing applies to helmets — R.I. does not mandate helmets for motorcyclists — which is fine by me, the government should not be our Big Nanny. (However, I don’t want to have to share any of the bills if you do go splat.)

  15. Did anybody else notice that the lawyers who prosecuted the $145 Billion suit were a husband and wife team? The sad part is that the two lawyers will probably get in the tens of billions of dollars for their part and the 700,000 claimants in the class action suit will probably each get a coupon for a free carton of cigarettes as compensation.

  16. Heh – if you think the RI law is obnoxious (and I think ticketing for seatbelts if you’re pulled over for something else has been around in a bunch of states for a while – PA for one), NY has started an ad campaign explaining that they’ll be pulling people over, even with no other violations, if they aren’t wearing a seatbelt. They’re also setting up checkpoints. It is is part of what I believe is a country-wide seatbelt crack-down in the two-week period starting at Memorial Day weekend, because so many people are on the road and there is supposedly an increase in accidents.

  17. Jim,
    I agree with you completely. I don’t support motorcycle helmet laws, but I always wore one when riding.

    In MN, we’ve got a seatbelt law, and if you aren’t wearing one, you can get a ticket, but there is NO fine. This seems ludicrous, but the way it works is this:

    Cops never stop just for seatbelt. So say you are speeding (10 over), get a speeding ticket, and a no-seatbelt ticket.

    You go to court. Three people in front of you see the Judge. They all were going 10 over, they all get a $50.00 fine, even though the max could be $200. Judge sees you – 2 tickets, can’t fine you for no-seatbelt, but gives you $200 fine for driving 10 over.

    So, effectively, the seatbelt law is usually ignored, but is used to increase the fines for speeding.

  18. The personal responsibility line about smokers does not convince me. My own personal experience is that I started smoking in grade school (I was 13 at the time). By the time I was 17 I had a pack a day habit.

    I was one of the lucky ones. I managed to quit smoking at 18. However smoking is a terrible addiction. I can’t smoke at all, because my first cigarette will easily lead to my first pack of cigarettes and back to the addictive pack a day habit. I have that experience as well. One really bad week at age 25 and within a few days I was back to the pack a day habit; I quit again one year later. I haven’t had a cigarette in about 10 years.

    I know of no smokers who started smoking as an adult. (and yes, I know that is not a scientific survey)

    It’s my own history that makes me angry at the tobacco companies. Joe Camel is clearly something that is aimed at young smokers. Many of the tobacco lawsuit settlements included agreements that tobacco companies cease putting ads within 100 feet of schools. They also can’t advertize cigarettes in places like variety stores, where kids would buy candy. I believe that in one of the discoveries in one of the many lawsuits, the marketing plans targetting cigarettes at minors came to light.

    I am sorry but any company that markets a dangerous addictive product to minors cannot and should not be allowed to hide behind the notion of “personal responsibility” to avoid the consequences of their actions. The tobacco companies are no better than the drug pushers who give free crack to kids in the schools and really should be treated accordingly.

    My favourite bit of cigarette trivia is the fact that in 50’s one of the cigarette companies put asbestos in their cigarette filters. Talk about adding to the dangers of smoking. Asbestos and Tobacco have a synergistic effect. Asbestos exposure makes you more prone to lung dysfunction (including lung cancer) as a result of tobacco smoking; tobacco smoking makes you more prone to lung dysfunction (including cancer) as a result of asbestos exposure.

    I disagree with the notion that smoking in bars should be allowed. I like going to bars. I hate coming home from bars because my clothes smell like they have been in a smokehouse and I wake up the next morning coughing up a lung. Hence I do not go to bars as often as I would like. And second hand smoke is way more dangerous than the gunk you breath on the highway; second hand smoke has been deemed a known carcinogen by the international association for the research of cancer.

    Smoking related disease also does not only effect the smoker. We all (to some extent) pay for the health costs of smoking through medical costs and lost productivity due to the various sicknesses that come as a result of smoking. Being Canadian, this is more acute because my tax dollars goes to pay for the health care of smokers. I want some of this money back from the tobacco companies.

    On some technical issues around the florida lawsuit, it was not a victory of personal responsibility vs victimhood. The appellate court decided that the lawsuit should never have been certified as a class action in the first place. Essentially the tobacco companies won on a technicality.

    The plaintiffs lawyers got nothing. Typically in the U.S. personal injury cases are funded by contingency fee arrangements. The lawyer wins and he or she gets paid; the lawyer loses, he or she gets nothing. Actually he or she gets less than nothing, because its the lawyer who would be typically on the hook for the disbursement (which in a major tobacco litigation claim can run in the hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.)


  19. On seatbelt laws (not including child seats and belts):

    The only reason I can think of for having a law that protects people from injuring themselves, such as seatbelt laws and their like, is that you might become unproductive as a result and reduce your own value as a tax revenue source. If your insurance did not cover your medical expenses in an accident where you weren’t wearing a belt, I could understand this, but for the government to require you to protect yourself make me wonder what their vested interest is.

    You are a battery.

  20. I can’t agree with banning smoking in bars. If you don’t want to be exposed to the secondhand smoke in such an establishment, the answer is simple: don’t go there at all! The same could apply to many private establishments.

  21. “The only reason I can think of for having a law that protects people from injuring themselves, such as seatbelt laws and their like, is that you might become unproductive as a result and reduce your own value as a tax revenue source. If your insurance did not cover your medical expenses in an accident where you weren’t wearing a belt, I could understand this…”

    Given the number of uninsured in this country, your assumption that the government would not have to step in and pay the medical costs (meaning, ultimately, the taxpayers), the assumption that insurance would cover these people is possibly over-generous.

  22. Stephen A. Russell 5/22 09:14 AM “However, I don’t see why in some places a restaurant cannot legally have a smoking section…”

    Having a non-smoking section in a restaurant is like having a non-chlorine section in a pool.

  23. Re: smoking in bars

    Know why I like going to bars (clubs)? To go dancing. I neither drink nor smoke. I live in a city which has no non-smoking bars/clubs that I’m aware of. I’m with Andrew: I really don’t like coming home smelling like smoke and blowing black gunk out of my nose all day the next day. The end result is I go out dancing about exactly never, which makes me grumpy.

    Honestly, if people want to go to bars and smoke, that’s their perogative, but I sure wish I could find an option for somebody like me (short of opening my own non-smoking bar).

    Generally, though, I agree with John. I’m always bewildered when I see people my age or younger smoking. Can’t they /read/? Don’t they /believe/ the warnings? (Sure, they just figure “It won’t happen to *me*.” Humans are dumb. :))

    Right. anyway. :)


  24. “Given the number of uninsured in this country, . . .”

    If the problem is the number of uninsured in this country, then I really wish we would try to fix that problem instead of taking away people’s freedom, including the freedom to do something stupid.

  25. John,
    You say:
    “Given the number of uninsured in this country, your assumption that the government would not have to step in and pay the medical costs (meaning, ultimately, the taxpayers), the assumption that insurance would cover these people is possibly over-generous.”

    I don’t know how it works in Ohio, but I am in PA. Here, I am required by law to carry auto insurance for both ‘uninsured’ and ‘underinsured’ drivers. Thus, I end up paying my insurance which is required by law, _and_ paying just in case some yabo is driving without insurance. I assume that the reasoning is to cover what you are talking about: the situation where the government would end up footing the bill. Instead, my insurance covers me even if the other guy is uninsured.

    I have to admit that I don’t know who ends up paying for the medical expenses of the hypothetical guy without insurance if the accident is his fault. I wouldn’t be surprised if the government foots the bill, but this is just wrong.

    This is the problem as I see it with going too socialist in government policy. When the government pays, it gives them a theory to argue from in trying to dictate individual actions (ie, if we are paying your medical expenses then we can tell you what behavior is unacceptable risky). I truely believe that it again comes back to personal accountability. As long as no one suffers for their own poor decisions or lack of forethought then people will continue to rely on their more responsible bretheren to pull their chestnuts out of the fire when own actions backfire on them (insert analogy here – Ant and Grasshoppeer, Communist Worker, etc).

    Sorry for the tangent. To put this back on track, I don’t think my insurance would turn down a claim if I was in an accident and not wearing a seatbelt. If they did, then that should be stated in my policy. If my insurance does not cover me because I went through the windshield without a belt on then why should I expect the government to pay for my injuries? That is the basis for my assumption that the government would not have to step in. Not that insurance companies would always pay, but that if they did not that does not mean that it is up to the government to step in.

  26. This spring there was a major (but unsuccessful) push for a total ban on smoking in bars and reataurants here in Rhode Island. Much of this push seemed to come from the union representing bar and restaurant workers (A young girl says “My Mommy is a waitress. Please don’t kill her with second-hand smoke. I love her and need her. Thank you.” — I’m paraphrasing, but that was the fairly typical) It was an interesting slant — usually the debate is non-smoking customers vs. smoking customers vs. the possibility of lost business for the owner.

    The bill failed to make it, so I guess the restaurant and tobacco lobbies paid off more legislators than the restaurant employees union did. (Who? Me? Cynical? Hey, I live in Rhode Island where we have the best state legislature that money can buy.)

  27. In the province where I live, the two largest cities, with 40,000 and 700,000 people residing in them, have now gone completely smoke-free. This includes nightclubs, bars, outdoor public places and even legions. While there was heated debate for some time, ultimately the health-issue won out over the smokers “right” to smoke around other people. The fallout has been slight, and no one has complained about lost business, while most agree that going out for an evening with friends and not coming home smelling like an ashtray is preferable.

    Also, police in this province routinely pull people over for not wearing a seatbelt. It is an automatic $100 dollar fine, and there is now discussion about violators also losing demerits on their driver’s license.

  28. Banning smoking in bars (not restaurants, here) is like the pot calling the kettle black or in this case, a hazard. Two alcoholic beverages or one drink per hour, puts you over the legal limit to drive home. So lets subdivide a bar further into a non-driver section.

  29. Thanks, John, for starting this fiasco at my request! Here are my $0.02: No one is responsible for YOUR actions but YOURSELF. Check out a little snippet from John Stossel entitled, “I Can’t Help Myself: Is Addiction a Matter of Choice?”

    I don’t buy that crap about conspiracies in “Big Tobacco” to ensure and increase “addiction.” What’s next? Addiction to pornography, gambling, drinking, adultery, eating, shopping? Our society is pathetically encamped in the victimhood corner; it’s circling the drain and we have ourselves to blame for it.

  30. Sorry, Wade, but I don’t buy the ‘society-> victimhood meme’. I saw Stossel’s report. I think he effectively demonstrated that, for some people, maybe even most people, addiction can be broken by will power. That is fine as far as it goes, but what about the set of people for whom addiction cannot be broken by will power alone?

    So I think that ‘addiction’, as most people understand it, does exist. It may not be as widespread as the recovery industry (or the government, for that matter) likes to make it.

  31. Clocking in late on this thread, but what the hell.

    For the record, my first cigarette was at 21, putting me in the tiny bracket of people who didn’t start in their teens. Between 23 and 25, I had about five cigarettes a year… then I moved in with a smoker (ex-)girlfriend, and it’s been around a pack a day ever since.


    There’s a huge difference between the self-destruction of not wearing seatbelts and the self-destruction of smoking. The former is courting immediate and painful injury. The latter is raising your odds of illness over a timeframe of several decades. Conflating the two shows at least some level of ignorance, either of risk or of how humans generally perceive risk.

    Most anti-smokers quote the “secondhand smoke is dangerous” line as Holy Gospel. I’m still waiting to hear someone refute the recent Penn and Teller show that debunked this as based on a flawed 1993 study. Yes, yes, I know, it’s infotainment. But it’s also Penn and Teller. High cred to the source.

    What the “dangerous secondhand smoke” really changed was the vehemence of the anti-smokers. It’s no longer about clean air, it’s about your right to live forever, and anything that affects that is fair game to abolish all normal rules of propriety. Compare the disdainful looks given to smokers compared to the complete stoneface maintained when someone farts in an elevator.

    The way to resolve this is simple. Smoking outside in the Big Room where you’ve got trillions of cubic feet of air circulating should only be regulated in a fascist state. Smoking indoors is a case-by-case basis; I find it ludicrous that on a 20-car Amtrak train, there’s a no-cell-phone car but no smoking car. But hey, that’s Amtrak.

    And between individuals? Treat people politely. The lit ember in my mouth doesn’t give you the right to treat me like garbage.

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