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Jewish World Review / May 29, 1998 / 4 Sivan, 5758

Larry Elder

Larry Elder What's next, ‘burger busters'?

A MAN PUFFING A CIGARETTE stood beneath a tree and looked up to find a pigeon sitting on the branch squarely above his head. "Go ahead," he said to the bird. "Everybody else has."

Memo to non-cigarette smokers: You're next.

After over 30 years of cigarette-package warnings and increased knowledge about the dangers of smoking, most adults either have never picked up the habit or have stopped smoking. The percentage of adult smokers plummeted from nearly 40 percent 30 years ago to approximately 25 percent now. Most Americans would rather face Judge Judy without a receipt than smoke.

But the anti-tobacco piling on continues. Minnesota bludgeons tobacco makers into a multibillion-dollar "settlement." A new Santa Cruz, Calif., ordinance allows the banning of smoking in public parks! (What, someone found a butt near a dead pigeon?)

The pure-of-lung watch with indifference this attack against tobacco companies. Few voice objections to pending federal and various state legislation designed to add still more taxes on cigarettes. Most Americans simply don't care. They should.

First, cigarette smoking remains a legal activity. I once asked my brother why he smoked. He took a long drag on a cigarette, slowly expelled the smoke and said, "Because I enjoy it." Having mastered the English language some time ago, my brother could read the warning labels as well as the next guy. Still, he smoked -- and, to my knowledge, never even attempted to quit. No nicotine patch, no 12-step program. He smoked because he found it pleasurable. Fifty million other Americans smoke, some of whom actually like it.

Second, cigarette smoking does not "cost" taxpayers money. Add up the state and federal taxes paid by the smoker, as well as taxpayer "savings" on Medicare and Medicaid because of the premature death of smokers, and Joe and Joan Taxpayer actually "save" money.

Third, as the price of cigarettes increases, the black market grows. Canada estimates that smokers purchase as many as 40 percent of their cigarettes through the black market, a market that increases crime and violence with no measurable impact on teen smoking. In fact, Canada recently reduced cigarette taxes to combat this growing black market. Even California Sen. Dianne Feinstein understands this, saying, "I've got some concerns (including) the likelihood of a major black market."

Fourth, many anti-smoking crusaders base their position on the harmful effects of secondhand smoke. Unfortunately, according to The Wall Street Journal, the "definitive study" on secondhand smoke by the World Health Organization of the United Nations found "no cancer risk at all." So, the connection between secondhand smoke and lung cancer appears negligible at best. But who needs evidence?

And, finally, what's next? Certainly, that double cheeseburger with grilled onions from Mickey D's compares unfavorably with a cucumber sandwich and a side of tofu. Dr. Kelly Brownell, director of Yale University Center for Eating and Weight Disorders, says, "To me, there is no difference between Ronald MacDonald and Joe Camel." Brownell places bad-diet deaths at 300,000, close to the nearly 400,000 cigarette-smoking related deaths per year. His proposal? A fat tax. Ding Dongs and Chicken McNuggets would get taxed at a higher rate than, say, a side of steamed carrots. Call it Operation Dessert Storm. Drop that candy bar -- or else!

And how about the recent article in the liberal magazine The Nation: "Generation Wired -- Caffeine Is the New Drug of Choice for Kids." Here we learn that according to the Department of Agriculture, children and teens drink 64 gallons of soda a year, triple the 1978 rate for teens. Well, call the drug czar!

And let's not forget coffee. The Nation says, "As for kids' rising attraction to coffee, that may be fueled by the proliferation of coffee shops -- Starbucks opens another one every business day -- and the perennial desire of kids to ape grown-up behavior."

Firebomb Starbucks! Dr Pepper kills! Hog-tie the CEOs of Pepsi and Coke!

California voters face an initiative to levy a 50-cent tax per package of cigarettes in order to raise $700 million for "child development programs." A three-pack-a-day smoker faces a $550-a-year cost hike. And those earning $30,000 a year or less smoke in greater numbers than those with greater income. But not to worry -- it's for their own good.

Hey, why not tax BMWs and Lexuses, since Yugos and Kias provide better gas mileage? Why not tax television viewers who choose "South Park" and the Home Shopping Network over Arts & Entertainment and BRAVO. How about a concert tax for those who prefer the Spice Girls over Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture down at the local Philharmonic?

In the latest Robert Redford movie, a family decides whether to have a physically and psychologically damaged pony "put down." Doesn't this suggest a more humane way of treating cigarette smokers? After, all, they shoot horses, don't they?


5/21/98: 'Stuff' happens
5/18/98: This just in
5/11/98: Stepping up
4/30/98: Who's faking whom?
4/16/98:To spank or not to spank

©1998, Laurence A. Elder