Thank You for Smoking
Peter Brimelow (nonsmoker,
hangperson's noose is unmistakably around the tobacco industry's
neck. In Florida and Mississippi, state governments are attempting
to force tobacco companies to pay some smoking-related health care
costs. In Washington, D.C., the Environmental Protection Agency
has claimed that "secondhand smoke" is a significant risk for nonsmokers
and the Food & Drug Administration is making noises about regulating
nicotine as a drug. And recently the American Medical Association
agreed, reasserting that nicotine is addictive. Smokers have already
been driven away from many workplaces into the street for a furtive
puff. But further legal harassment, to the point of what an industry
spokesman calls "backdoor prohibition," seems unstoppable.
in this lynching frenzy: the fact that smoking might be, in some
small ways, good for you.
on now! Let's be clear: The Surgeon General has indeed determined
that smoking is dangerous to your health. Lung cancer and cardiovascular
diseases are highly correlated with cigarette consumption. Annual
smoking-related deaths are commonly said to be over 400,000 (although
critics say the number is inflated).
so is driving automobiles dangerous to your health (over 40,000
deaths a year). Yet people do it, because it has rewards as well
as risk. And they judge, as individuals, that the reward outweighs
is called freedom.
what are the rewards of cigarette smoking? Apart from intangible
pleasure, the most obvious is behavioral. A battery of studies,
such as those by British researcher D.M. Warburton, show that cigarettes,
whatever their other effects, really do stimulate alertness, dexterity
and cognitive capacity.
alertness, dexterity, etc., can be useful. Such as when driving.
Or flying as Congress recognized when it exempted airline
pilots from the ban on smoking on domestic flights.
behavioral benefits suggest an answer to the Great Tobacco Mystery:
why almost a third of adult Americans continue to do something they
are told, incessantly and insistently, is bad for them. (Duke University
economist W. Kip Viscusi reported in his 1992 book, Smoking:
Making the Risky Decision, that survey data show smokers,
if anything, exaggerate the health danger of their habit.)
according to numerous studies such as those by University of Michigan
researchers Ovide and Cynthia Pomerleau, are different from nonsmokers.
They tend toward depression and excitability. Current understanding
is that nicotine is "amphoteric," that is, it can act to counter
both conditions, depending on how it is consumed. (Quick puffs stimulate,
long drags calm.)
implication is fascinating. A large part of the population seems
to be aware of its significant although not pathological personality
quirks, and to have discovered a form of self-medication that regulates
course, this explanation for the stubbornness of smokers is not
as satisfying as what Washington prefers to believe: mass seduction
by the wicked tobacco companies and their irresistible advertising.
Nor would it justify huge rescue operations by heroic politicians
its behavioral effects, smoking seems also to offer subtler health
rewards to balance against its undisputed risks:
disease. The frequency of this degenerative disorder of
the nervous system among smokers appears to be half the rate among
nonsmokers an effect recognized by the Surgeon General as
along ago as 1964.
disease. Similarly, the frequency of this degenerative mental
disorder has recently been found to be as much as 50%less among
smokers than among nonsmokers for example, by the H studies reviewed
in the International Journal of Epidemiology in 1991.
cancer. There is extensive and long-standing evidence that
this disease of the womb occurs as much as 50% less among smokers
as documented by, for example, a New England Journal of Medicine
article back in 1985. The triggering mechanism appears to be a reduction
of estrogen levels.
cancer. Conversely, smoking seems to raise estrogen levels
in men and may be responsible for what appears to be a 50% lower
rate of prostate cancer among smokers, although this needs corroboration.
This degenerative disorder of bone and cartilage is up to five times
less likely to occur among heavy smokers as documented, for example,
by the federal government's first Health and Nutrition Examination
cancer, ulcerative colitis. These diseases of the bowel
seem to be about 30% and 50% less frequent among smokers as documented,
for example, by articles in the Journal of the American Medical
Association and in the New England Journal of Medicine
in 1981 and 1983, respectively.
benefits that have been suggested for smoking: Lower rates of sarcoidosis
and allergic alveolitis, both lung disorders, and possibly even
acne. Smokers are also lighter ironically, because obesity is a
leading cause of the cardiovascular disease that smoking is also
supposed to exacerbate. So you could quit smoking and still
die of a heart attack because of the weight you put on.
of these health benefits is enough to persuade doctors to recommend
occasional cigarettes, in the way that some now occasionally recommend
a glass of wine.
consider this theoretical possibility: Should 60-year-olds take
up smoking because its protection against Alzheimer's is more immediate
that its potential damage to the lungs, which won't show up for
30 years if at all?
theoretical possibility and likely to remain theoretical. Research
into possible benefits of tobacco and nicotine is widely reported
to be stymied by the absolutist moral fervor of the antismoking
the Carter Administration, the federal government abandoned its
research into safer cigarettes in favor of an attack on all smoking.
No effort is made to encourage smokers to switch to pipes and cigars,
although their users' lung cancer and heart disease rates are five
to ten times lower (somewhat offset by minor increases in mouth
and throat cancers). There is no current support for studies of
the marginal increase in danger for each cigarette smoked, although
it appears the human system can clear the effects of three to five
of the (much stronger) pre-1960 cigarettes, if dispersed across
a day, with relatively little risk.
the extirpation of smoking had become another "moral equivalent
of war" as President Carter called the energy crisis in the 1970s,
and as price and wage controls were viewed earlier. There is no
role for tradeoffs, risk-reward calculations or free choice.
don't tobacco companies point out the potential offsetting rewards
of smoking? Besides the usual corporate cowardice and bureaucratic
inertia, the answer may be another, typically American, disease:
lawyers. Directing the companies' defense, they apparently veto
any suggestion that smoking has benefits for fear of liability suits
and of the possible regulatory implications if nicotine is seen
as a drug.
leaves smokers defenseless against a second typically American disease:
the epidemic of power hungry puritanical bigots.
Brimelow [send him mail]
editor of VDARE.com, was senior
editor of Forbes. This article is from the July 4, 1994,
© 1994 Peter Brimelow