In Defense of Smokers

As a doctor, I am well away of the negative health effects of smoking. Studies show a life time of smoking subtracts an average of ten years from your life expectancy. I also read about the considerable health costs of treating smoking-related illnesses, such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, heart disease and stroke. However other studies suggest that non-smokers actually generate higher health care costs because they live ten years longer (see http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2009-04-08-fda-tobacco-costs_N.htm). These studies receive limited publicity because the Center for Disease Control prudently chooses not to promote the cost savings associated with premature death.

Owing to a chronic sinus condition, I am painfully aware of the effects of second hand smoke. Prior to the public ban on smoking, I had no choice but to avoid public areas (restaurants, bars, theatres and even airplanes) where smoking was likely to occur.

The Stigmatization of Smokers

However, as a civil libertarian, I am also very concerned about the increasing stigmatization of smokers – especially when I see that employers are using “smoker status” as a justification for not hiring people. In this regard, I think the right wing may be justified in labelling liberals (who were largely responsible for smoking bans) as “green fascists.” In an era were corporate and government interests are looking for every possible opportunity to pit working Americans against one another, we need to be wary of becoming hypercritical over lifestyle choices.

Most of us know better than to stigmatize the unemployed and homeless (since many of us may be joining them soon). Yet some of us don’t give a second thought about coming down on smokers, alcoholics or the obese. All three seem to popular targets right now, owing to liberals’ willingness to embrace what is essentially conservative ideology – the need to take “personal responsibility” for our lives.

The Cult of Personal Responsibility

Taking “personal responsibility” simply ain’t going to cut it right now. Not for the 22 percent unemployed, nor for the 1.6 million American homeless, nor for the thousands of families facing imminent foreclosure on their homes. And singling out designated groups for their poor lifestyle choices distracts us from the real problem in the US – a concerted attack by Wall Street and our corporate controlled President and Congress on working people.

Decades of epidemiological research show that lifestyle choices account for only 10% of the causation of illness (see Aug 30 blog). If we are really serious about improving Americans’ abysmal health status (near the bottom for industrial countries), it’s time to address the real cause of poor health. Study after study shows a direct link between the extreme income disparity in the US (where 10% of the population controls 70% of the wealth) and our high rate of both acute and chronic illness.

It’s time to focus on the real problem – the corporate deregulation and tax cuts responsible for our extreme income inequality. Instead of scapegoating smokers and fat people.


The Most Revolutionary Act on radio:

Gorilla Radio – Chris Cook, Victoria British Columbia

(click on link)

Chris and I discuss how I was first targeted, following my decision to support the occupation (of an abandoned school)  that led to the formation of Seattle’s first African American Heritage Museum – as an alternative to the crack cocaine epidemic among the city’s African American teenagers. We also talk about my research into HIV AIDS, my hospitalization and the Veterans Administration psychologist I worked with who also helped GIs illegally stationed in Cambodia in the sixties and seventies (and terrorized into keeping quiet about it).

XZone Interview with Rob McConnell

(click on link  – show is syndicated – fast forward the music to hear interview)

Rob and I discuss the phone harassment, break-ins, attempts to run me down – and my psychiatric hospitalization. We also talk about the political activities that seemed to lead the government to target me – including my research into HIV AIDS – and my inability to get help from the Seattle police. Then we cover the whole area of conspiracies in general, which are more accurately called State Crimes Against Democracy (SCAD

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