Life As We Know It: October 7, 2013

        Question: What is the most preventable cause of death and disease in America? Clue: It involves a lot of coughing and hacking and wheezing, and it smells really bad. It takes more lives than auto accidents, AIDS, alcohol, heroin, cocaine, suicide, and homicide combined. You buy the thing in packs of 20, set them on fire, and breathe deeply. What fun, huh?

        Even a tobacco company executive would get the point, though he or she would try to convince you, and especially your adolescent children, hey, there’s nothing to worry about.

        Big Tobacco is in constant recruitment mode, hoping to hook another generation of kids as new smokers. And Big Tobacco has been very successful. Seldom is the decision to smoke made by adults. The Foundation for a Smokefree America says that 60 percent of smokers start by the age of 14, and 90 percent of smokers were firmly addicted before reaching the age of 19. In other words, only one in 10 smokers became addicted after the age of 19.

        For many of them, their habit is a ticket to oblivion. The World Health Organization estimates that of the world’s 1.2 billion smokers, 500 million will die of smoking and the diseases it causes.

        But Big Tobacco doesn’t want to hear it and will invest heavily wherever it feels threatened. Big Tobacco made Ohio its battleground state in 2006 but lost its fight against a statewide ban on smoking in public places. I’m proud to say that the ban was an initiative The Blade helped launch.

        So I’m glad I know Patrick Reynolds. Mr. Reynolds is the grandson of the giant tobacco company’s founder, R.J. Reynolds himself. Patrick could have embraced a comfortable and lucrative corporate life but chose a different path after watching his family’s products kill his father and oldest brother. Now he’s one of America’s best known anti-smoking advocates. I have to assume he’s no longer welcome at family reunions.

        I got to know Patrick Reynolds during the smoking ban campaign here in Ohio seven years ago. He wrote a Saturday Essay for The Blade, he appeared on our television program, The Editors, and he traveled Ohio as a truth-teller in the face of the tobacco industry’s lavishly funded campaign of misinformation. Fortunately, Ohioans knew whom to believe.

        Patrick and I still talk, and he’s still fighting the good fight.

        I’ve never smoked, but I remember when my parents did. It seems to me that when I was a child, they paid about a quarter a pack and maybe $2 for a carton of 10 packs. Today a carton of 10 packs can cost as much as $50 or more.

        In case you’re wondering, Ohio collects $1.25 in state tax per pack of cigarettes. Michigan gets $2 a pack in tax. Contrast that with just 60 cents in Kentucky, a tobacco-producing state. Collectively, the major tobacco states charge an average of just 48 cents a pack. At the other extreme, Massachusetts leads the states with a tax of $3.51 a pack. And yet Americans keep smoking, seemingly no matter what the cost.

        But I worry most about the kids. I feel no sympathy at all for a business so desperate to keep the money river flowing that it resorts to misinformation and deceit to hook young people vulnerable to peer pressure. After all, this is an industry whose product, when used as directed, kills.

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