Thursday, July 5, 2007

99. Smoking just as scary as terrorism

Cigarettes and terrorists share many unfortunate characteristics. Most significantly, and of considerable concern - they kill people. Their absurd relationship has led to the deaths of thousands of Americans, albeit in very distinctly different ways. The method of operation is a well-known theme for the executioners; cigarettes use addiction to slowly, through years of deteriorating health, kill their users, while terrorists typically use religious passion to tragically and abruptly end the lives of the innocent. It is not for me to say which is worse, though I have witnessed the previous on several occasions.

The impact on this country is several-fold, to the extent that entire books could be, and have been, written on the subjects. Cigarettes and terrorists affect the nation's economy, morale, health and politics. However, when juxtaposed, the two are treated very differently by our government.

Cigarettes kill, by some estimates, 440,000 persons per year, a rate which translates as the cause of 1 in every 5 deaths. By contrast, terrorists killed about 3000 Americans in 2001. This disparity is more than considerable, so much so that one would expect relative government attention. It is interesting to analyze the contrasting government action, one which seems introverted in its approach.

Both terrorists and cigarettes have a tremendous financial impact on Americans. Terrorists destroyed the "Twin Towers," brought air travel to a standstill, nearly crashed the stock market (as "patriotic" Americans rushed to pull their investments), and led America into two wars. The cost endured has been estimated at more than one trillion dollars. However, these costs were largely the result of the decisions made by Americans and our government in response to the attack.

Cigarettes have two effects on the American economy. On one hand it is draining the resources afforded to our healthcare system, specifically driving up healthcare rates. When one considers the lost income, effect on the families and other subsequent factors, the indirect costs of cigarette sales is unimaginable. On the other hand, the government collects taxes on the sales of cigarettes, employee earnings and corporate profits - as well as other grants and settlements provided by the cigarette companies.

In terms of lives, the terrorists, as previously mentioned, are directly responsible for the approximately 3000 killed on September 11, 2001. However, in the aftermath, many more have died, including both Iraqi citizens and American soldiers. The atonement of September 11, in terms of, hunting terrorists, invading the countries that harbor them, and killing just about anyone else that gets in the way (collateral damage), has significantly dwarfed the number of Americans killed by the terrorists.

Comparatively, cigarettes are directly responsible for the 440,000 persons they kill per year. Since 2001, that is over 2.6 million people. While cigarette sales do appear to be declining, as well as the social acceptance of smoking, there does not appear to be a clear government stance on the issue other than to insist that the cigarette companies make the harmful effects known.

It is interesting to note then, that even though the terrorists have not killed even 1 percent of those killed by cigarettes; the United States government has spent such considerable resources to make amends. It has, in addition, created additional state departments, strangled civil liberties, ignored international law, and displayed America in an unfavorable light throughout the world.

In contrast, except for the right to actually smoke them, cigarette companies are permitted to just keep producing a product that is blatantly harmful. This permission is extended in extreme contradiction to any other product that has been found to be harmful - which is usually immediately pulled from the market. The government seems nearly silent in addressing a harm on Americans that is easily identifiable and preventable. If the government was really looking for the "evildoers," they could head down tobacco road to find the corporations that are killing Americans by the thousands each and every day. Its only strategy appears to be increasing the price of cigarettes (or the taxes on cigarettes) until they are no longer affordable - even if the economic drain most affects the addicted poor.

The introverted perspective exists for a number of reasons- most of which are easily identifiable. However, it is the often overlooked perspective that is important. Too often situations are accepted based on tradition rather than reason. If the government really cared about Americans, it would make smoking illegal, and provide the necessary care to help the addicted. The endeavor would save many more lives that the terrorist will probably ever kill- not to mention save our health care system millions of dollars and allow Americans to live healthier lives.