Tobacco, The Feds and You

Smoking is bad for you. We all know that. Few things are as ingrained in our collective mind as the idea that smoking is a deadly addiction which ought to be discouraged and punished with extra taxes, age restrictions, public bans and other such regulations. Life neatly divides into good guys and bad guys, the good guys being the Surgeon General and his government cohorts, and the bad guys being those nasty tobacco companies who sneak up behind people and shove lit cigarettes into their mouths.

Is the real world ever so clearcut? Smoking is a personal habit with some health risks and some pleasurable benefits. The last thing we need is more government involvement in our personal choices.

"If I cannot smoke cigars in Heaven, I shall not go." So said Mark Twain, acknowledging that smoking just might be bad for you.

Numerous medical studies over the past century have conclusively shown the link between tobacco smoking and various diseases, particularly lung cancer. Overall, a cigarette smoker has about ten times the risk of lung cancer as a nonsmoker. Cigar and pipe smokers have only three times the risk. And moderate cigar and pipe smokers -- those who smoke no more than two cigars or pipe bowls per day -- have no significant difference in risk from nonsmokers.

Smoking a premium cigar is less hazardous than smoking cigarettes for several reasons. Premium cigars are made with no additives, unlike cigarettes with hundreds, and cigars' fermentation process results in lower tar and nicotine. Most cigar and pipe smokers don't inhale the smoke deeply, while cigarette smokers typically do. Cigar smokers often start smoking later in life.

Does this mean that cigar and pipe smoking is harmless? Of course not. Heavy smoking of tobacco in any form raises your risk of several diseases tremendously. Alcohol and even caffeine use compound the risk. But smoking is not an inevitable killer, and the stress from worrying about moderate smoking is more dangerous than the smoking itself.

"E = mc2", Albert Einstein said, but he also said, "Pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgment in all human affairs." Old Albert was referring to something the surgeon general shudders to think of -- the benefits of smoking.

Contrary to government warning labels, smoking is not all danger and no benefit. Smokers report various pleasurable aspects of smoking -- mental alertness, general ease, reduced stress.

Very little in life is pure cost or pure benefit. Virtually every choice we make is a trade-off between what we gain and what we give up. Who other than yourself is qualified to decide for you whether the benefits outweigh the costs?

Al Haig used to say when he smoked a Cuban cigar, "I'm not violating the embargo, I'm destroying communist resources."

The American spirit can be summed up as "Don't Tread on Me." Today, various busybodies are treading on us in countless ways. Our liberties have suffered the death of a thousand cuts -- we lose a little bit here, a little bit there. Health Puritans have played their role in this, with regulations, limitations, strangulations, trying desperately to condemn us to a long life of no fun.

We have sin taxes on tobacco products. We have an embargo against Cuba including its world-renowned cigars. We have age restrictions, advertising bans and countless other pages of federal, state and local regulations of tobacco use.

It's time for all of us to say to the government, "Butt out!" We support free trade -- end the pointless embargo against Cuba. We don't want the likes of Bill Clinton or Bob Dole determining our values -- families and communities can do a much better job of dealing with teenage smoking. Our right to free speech is absolute and intertwined with everyone else's -- repeal restrictions against advertising.

Smoking is now more than just a habit. It is an act of rebellion against the trend towards nanny-government. When you sit out on the porch, savor the smoke of a fine cigar, and discuss life with some friends, you're saying to the world, America's still a free country. Give me your advice, but keep your hands to yourself. I will choose whether my house and my business are smoke-free or smoke-friendly.

Smoking is smelly and unhealthy. We should be considerate of others in all that we do, keeping in mind our company and our surroundings. At the same time, moderate smoking is not harmful, can be quite pleasant, and is a great way to annoy busybodies. We don't have to sig heil to the health nazis. Government makes a terrible nanny. Whatever your choice may be regarding smoking, let's make sure it remains just that -- your choice.

-- Ken Gaillot