It is difficult to imagine, in the summer of 2006, something more politically incorrect than defending smokers. Other issues are controversial: immigration, medical marijuana, school choice, the War in Iraq. But in each of those cases, real debate is tolerated. Not so when it comes to tobacco.
The only people defending smokers and their tobacco products are either monsters or industry stooges, or so I am told repeatedly by professional anti-smoking activists, letter-to-the-editor writers, bloggers, and even some neighbors and friends. Everyone knows cigarettes kill smokers, secondhand smoke kills non-smokers, and tobacco use makes us all pay higher premiums for health and life insurance. Who in their right mind would want to defend such a terrible product?
Someone, perhaps, who has looked at the epidemiological studies of the health effects of secondhand smoke and found scant evidence in support of widely circulated claims. Someone who understands that smokers are well aware of the health risks posed by their habit surveys show they actually over-estimate the risk and therefore assume the risk of smoking. And someone, finally, who knows enough about health care economics to know that the cost smokers impose on the rest of society is far less than the taxes they pay on their products.
That someone, of course, is me. As president of The Heartland Institute, a national non-profit research organization (or “think tank”), I try to stay abreast of recent developments on a wide range of topics, including health care, taxes, environmental protection, and legal reform. It was in the course of reading, editing, and writing on these other topics that I noticed how smokers and their tobacco products were being abused I can think of no better word to describe it by a cabal of self-proclaimed public health advocates, tax-hungry politicians, environmental advocates, and trial lawyers. No one, it seemed, was willing to stand up for the lowly smoker. I figured I would volunteer for the job.
Several months ago, I got a call from a smokers’ rights group in Ohio asking me for help. Anti-smoking groups were whipping up support for a referendum that would impose a statewide smoking ban in public places. The caller asked if I could send him copies of everything I’d written on the subject over the years. No problem, I thought. It wouldn’t be very much.
I went on The Heartland Institute’s Web site at http://www.heartland.org and started searching for things I had written. I found six or seven essays, and sent them to Ohio. A few days later, it occurred to me that I missed a few, and I found and sent those as well. During the next three or four months, other essays I had written kept occurring to me, until I found I had assembled nearly 20 essays on the subject.
As I read through those essays, I was surprised to see that, with a few exceptions, there wasn’t as much overlap between them as one might have expected. While the same themes echo through them all, each essay brings new evidence or focuses on a different aspect of the debate. The jokes are still funny, at least to me, and the other side has yet to rebut any of the facts I report.
So it is with some surprise that I present to you, the reader, a collection of 13 of the best of those essays and a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (in Chapter 15), all defending smokers and their tobacco products, and all written by me during the past 10 years. Together they make a compelling case against the extremists, the nannies, and the taxers in our midst.
I should note before closing that the title of this collection is taken from the title of one of the essays, presented as Chapter 6, which in turn came from an email sent to me by an anti-smoking activist. I apologize to sensitive readers for the scatological reference, but note that the email writer used an even more offensive term.
Joseph L. Bast is president of The Heartland Institute.