Cigarettes are significantly less cool than they used to be. They've gone from the domain of Steve McQueen and James Dean to the hands of nearly every on-screen villian and European in the past 50 years. Its a product that was formerly endorsed by doctors for digestion, now you can't even find an eight year old unaware of the immediate and dire health risks involved with smoking. All of this is a good thing. Nay, its excellent. It's a credit to the public and to the health community that cigarettes are no longer being marketed to kids, being smoked in public places, or being percieved as the official uniform of "cool."
But, in the tireless campaign for good health we've done more than just educate the public about the health risks of cigarettes, we've demonized the companies that sell them. It wasn't enough to print warning labels on packs, educate students constantly on the hazards of smoking, and getting rid of marketing ploys like the Marlboro Man and Joe Camel. After all this was accomplished, we deemed it necessary to out the tobacco companies as willful violators of the American lung. People who dared to lie just to turn a profit.
Nice job everybody, you've exposed Big Tobacco for what they are. A business. Shocker right? I'll admit, before the risks of smoking became common knowledge, Tobacco companies were less than forthcoming. In fact, they were decietful. They conjured up misleading studies, downplayed the hazards, and pleaded the fifth whenever questioned by a judicial body. Does this make them a morally bankrupt institution? Yes, most likely. Does it make them responsible for the adults who willfully smoke today, even as you read this? Not even close.
When we didn't have the facts we could blame the people who refused to give them to us, but this is no longer the case. Slowly but surely we have dragged out every last bit of information we can, most of the time with Big Tobacco trying to pull us in the opposite direction. So now it is a question of personal responsibility. The forces that compel people to drink, gamble, have unprotected sex, and even participate in extreme sports are the same that compel them to smoke. We may just have to accept the fact that humanity does stupid things, even when the dangers are laid out on a sign two feet from their faces. And for all the stupid things people do, smoking isn't even on top of the list.
You can smoke a pack of cigarettes and then drive home without hurting anyone else. The same can't be said after finishing a bottle of Jack Daniels.
You can harm a fetus by smoking in utero, but you can avoid the responsibility of a child before you're ready by using a condom. Yet, amazingly, people knowlingly refuse to use a condom.
You can waste almost a half a million dollars over time if you're a lifelong smoker. You can also lose that in a day on a roulette table if you're so inclined.
So why aren't people camped outside Casinos protesting? Why isn't the Truth Organization going through a neighborhood full of liquor execs in the middle of the night, waking their families with facts about the dangers of alcohol, read over a megaphone? Why do we label a group of businessmen, who sell a product you choose to buy, as the devil incarnate? We can point to the addictive qualities of nicotine, but we'd have to look at Coca Cola, Pepsi, and Starbucks for filling their products with caffeine. What about the makers of prescription pills, who fail to see that their medication is properly prescribed and kept out of the hands of children?
The simple fact is that their is alot of stupid, irresponsible behavior in the world today. To put the blame on a group of companies who (shockingly) look out for their best interests instead of the consumers is tantamount to condemning the drug dealer and excusing the user. Big Tobacco is by no means without guilt, but its time to stop passing the buck when it comes to oour health and the health of our loved ones. We invent demons when we don't want to hold ourselves responsible.