Smoking takes a blow

Wade McIntyre
Wade McIntyre

Once upon a time pity was for people who were confined in the same room as cigarette smokers who were allowed to light up anytime.

Non-smokers who ate in restaurants, worked in offices and flew on planes in confined spaces with smokers had no choice but to grin and bear the fumes.

In that not so distant past, smokers ruled America and were a social monarchy in Europe.

Smokers had rights; non-smokers suffered in silence.

But in recent years we have witnessed the steady decline of the smoking empire. Tobacco companies have been exposed as drug merchants who regulated the strength of nicotine in their “nicotine delivery sticks” to keep customers hooked on their products.

Joe Camel and candy cigarettes are just two of the ways they targeted young children long before the legal age to buy tobacco products.

Somewhere along the line, bad press and poor health issues for smokers caused public support for smoking to wane.

Smoking is now a minority pastime, though still a mega-business with repeat customers hooked on the nicotine habit.

Smokers and even some non-smokers say smoking is a right, that even if it causes cancer, emphesyma and yellow teeth, and is the nation's leading cause of preventable death, it still provides legalized pleasure and should be allowed.

So be it. Smoking is still allowed, if you can afford it.

Last week the federal tax on a pack of cigarettes jumped up 62 cents to $1.01 a pack.  For a two-pack a day smoker, the increase is $452.60 a year.

In today’s recession, the new tax is proving too much for some smokers to bear. The American Cancer Society says phone calls to its smoking quitlines in 10 states across the country were 163 percent higher on the Wednesday the increase took effect than the same day a year before. Some quitlines are reporting even higher percentage increases.

And in another anti-smoking move last week, the House of Representatives voted to turn regulation of  tobacco over to the Food and Drug Adminstration.

The bill, which passed and now moves on to the Senate, leaves tobacco on store shelves, but gives the FDA power to regulate tobacco by forcing companies to get rid of harmful ingredients in their nicotine delivery sticks. The bill is supported by President Obama, himself a smoker, but faces a fight in the Senate where big tobacco lobbyists and senators from tobacco states want to create a new agency other than the FDA to regulate their products.

The House bill also requires bigger warning labels on packs, and would ban marketing to children.

None of this is the sort of legislation that had a chance before the Obama Adminstration when the rights of business in the marketplace were placed above any need for certain industries with bad track records, like big tobacco, to be monitored or reined in.

Now that the tables have turned, many smokers are being priced our of their habit, and a sordid industry will have to clean up its act and begin marketing the truth about its addicting product.

Nothing to pity about that.