am trying to adopt as many bad habits as possible before
its too late. In that spirit, I recently took up smoking.
My teacher was my friend Alexis Trboyevich. It was a while
before I got the hang of it. "You must inhale,"
she would insist. "Otherwise you wont enjoy the
full benefits of the nicotine."
had a point. It comes as no surprise that scientists are
now discovering that nicotine may not be so bad for you
after all. According to a 1994 article in the prestigious
New England Journal of Medicine, smokers are less
likely to get ulcerative colitis inflammation of the
bowels than nonsmokers. Indeed, the article claims,
"the onset of colitis is often associated with the
cessation of smoking." Recently, a Duke University
Medical Center study found that nicotine helped Alzheimers
patients. Pharmaceutical companies are trying to develop
nicotine medication for use against schizophrenia and depression.
I am not saying that a pack a day will do you as much good
as a two-mile run. On the other hand, I dont take
the health warnings particularly seriously. The antismoking
campaign, a noxious alliance of government and corporations,
was from the start a giant scam to transfer wealth from
the poor to the rich. It was not the shareholders of Philip
Morris or R.J. Reynolds who were fleeced. They know how
to look after themselves, and they have not gone poor. It
was ordinary smokers, many who earned very little, who were
forced to turn over an ever-larger share of their income
to the state. Governments love sales taxes. They are not
as readily noticeable as taxes on income. And their targets
are usually the poor, who are unlikely to protest as vehemently
as the rich.
sinister was the role of the corporations. Anxious about
the costs of providing their workforces with healthcare
coverage, corporate managers launched a fierce campaign
to compel their employees to lead healthy lives. It was
not enough that they did not smoke in the workplace. They
could not smoke outside the workplace. They could not drink.
They had to maintain a proper diet. Ted Turner, for example,
refused to hire smokers. A few years ago the Florida Supreme
Court ruled that it was not a violation of privacy for an
employer to ask a job applicant whether he had smoked over
the previous 12 months. A desire to reduce health insurance
costs, the Court argued, constituted reasonable grounds
for not hiring someone.
healthcare costs are ludicrously exaggerated. And deliberately
so, for it provides the corporations with an excuse to intrude
into their employees personal lives. And it provides
government with a basis to make a bogus financial claim.
Smokers are not a net cost to society. The economist W.
Kip Viscusi believes smokers will die before nonsmokers.
Therefore, whatever the healthcare they may inflict on others
during their lifetimes, these would be more than offset
by the financial gains that arise from lower nursing-home
costs, not to mention forgone retirement pensions and Social
Security claims. As he calculates it: "Overall, smokers
impose higher medical-care costs of 46 cents per pack; higher
sick-leave costs of 1 cent per pack; greater life-insurance
costs of 11 cents per pack; additional costs due to fires
of 2 cents per pack; and forgone Social Security taxes on
their earnings of 33 cents per pack
Smokers save society
20 cents per pack in nursing-home care and $1 per pack in
terms of lower pension and Social Security costs. On balance,
smokers save society 27 cents per pack from an insurance
standpoint." And he is not even counting the taxes
smokers pay, "which average 53 cents per pack of cigarettes."
how much worse off are smokers as against nonsmokers? Interestingly,
it is hard to get an answer to that question. The Centers
for Disease Control estimates that 400,000 people die every
year from smoking-related diseases. How it arrives at this
figure has always been a bit of a mystery. For one thing,
what exactly is a smoking-related disease? According to
the CDC it is something a smoker is more likely to get than
a nonsmoker. Thus if a smoker dies of heart disease, say,
the CDC will count it as a smoking-related death. This means
that other possible causes of death such as a family history
of heart disease or chronic lack of exercise are resolutely
the CDC does not like to tell us at what age these 400,000
died. The suggestion is they died young. Yet there is no
evidence of this. Everyone dies of something. Dying of lung
cancer at 75 is not the same as dying of it at 45. As a
Cato Institute study pointed out: "Almost 255,000 of
the smoking-related deaths nearly 60 percent of the
total occurred at age 70 or above. More than 192,000
deaths nearly 45 percent of the total occurred
at age 75 or higher. And roughly 72,000 deaths almost
17 percent of the total occurred at the age of 85 or
CDC loves to cite meaningless statistics like, "Men
who smoke increase their risk of death from lung cancer
by more than 22 times and from bronchitis and emphysema
by nearly 10 times." Well, it all rather depends on
what the likelihood of nonsmokers dying from lung cancer
is. If the chances are very small, then 22 times this number
is still not a huge number.
average," the CDC claims, "smokers die nearly
seven years earlier than nonsmokers." Seven years is
by no means an insignificant number if true. On the other
hand, it is a far cry from the doom-laden tales of the antismoking
zealots. A 1991 RAND study claimed that smoking "reduces
the life expectancy of a twenty-year-old by about 4.3 years."
I think I can stand to lose 4.3 years from my life. As Harry
Lime explained in The Third Man: "Leave the
dead alone. Theyre not missing much, the poor suckers."