Friday, November 10, 2006

'Nothing needs reforming like someone else's bad habit'

Daily Times Herald Columnist

If Carroll kids are still reading Mark Twain these days, and after some recent reports about books and reading in school here one wonders, they may remember one of the American humorist's more famous lines.

"Nothing needs reforming like someone else's bad habit," Twain said.

At this point in the discussion of smoking in contemporary America that seems to be a motivation for many.

Which isn't to defend smoking from a health standpoint.

Anyone who sticks with smoking is like a battered wife hanging on to a husband, wondering when the slaps become haymakers, the kicks turn to bullets.

It's arguable that the decision to smoke tobacco could be the single worst choice a person can make in terms of health.

Butt it is an informed decision.

I'm 37, born at the tail end of the 1960s, and I've never not known that smoking is deleterious to my health. I've never believed that the Marlboro Lights of my youth and the American Spirit Ultra Lights I smoke today made me any better in a health sense than the unfiltered Camels my grandfather, the late James W. Wilson, smoked until near the end of his 77 years.

I've never not known the deal. Well before I started I knew the consequences. It's not the fault of the tobacco companies or anyone else. It's my own, entirely. Each day I may lose at the end of my temporal time because of smoking is a day I chose to throw back like a spent cigarette butt.

I may roll the dice and win on this one, too. Smoking may not kill me. I smoke well under half a pack a day.

Of course, there is no magic number with cigarettes, no threshold where they go from recreational vice to suicidal means.

I've never not known this.

Which makes me wonder about the need for school groups like Just Eliminate Lies (JEL), which targets tobacco use, aims straight away at the Great American Right to Individual Stupidity.

Who doesn't know the perils of smoking?

The JEL groups have every right to their voices in the public marketplace of ideas. But wouldn't their time be better spent, their energy more appropriately used working tirelessly on preventing teen drinking, the death lottery of the Carroll area for young people?

If a 17-year-old kid makes the choice to smoke a cigarette, like I did in 1987, he could end up dying at age 77 instead of 85.

But that same kid who decides to drink and drive may never see 18.

In the end, there are worse things one can do than smoke.

Like turn into an insufferable anti-smoking activist who wants to make sure everyone else gets religion. Unless you are a non-smoking drunk who spends too much at the bar, it's awfully easy to avoid second-hand smoke these days.

The reformers would never admit this, but smoking can be a useful tool in our society.

Personally, if given the option, I would rather have millions of calm smokers living to be 70 rather than dealing with life in a country with millions of high-strung, ex-smokers walking around with attitudes until their 105th birthdays.

I would bet statisticians could correlate non-smoking and road rage.

Sounds like a great advertisement for Philip Morris. Maybe on they could use it to replace those eye-rollingly ridiculous ads promoting Web sites that convince people not to buy their products.

Think of that. In America, a company that produces a legal product, albeit an unhealthy one, has been compelled to advertise against itself. It's as if Coke were made to fail the Pepsi challenge.

And that's what's wrong with the anti-smoking crusaders. The government is attempting to nanny us, and the fee-addicted trial lawyers are seeking to settle it in the courts - all of which entrenches individual smokers, makes them feel, remarkably, yet understandably in some twisted sense, that their continued lighting up is at least in spirit a stand of sorts for the rights of individual self-determination, even if in the end that means self-destruction.

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