Paul Krassner founded the counterculture press in 1958 when he self-launched The Realist. He went on to create the Yippies with Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, and was the editor of Lenny Bruce's autobiography. Krassner contributes Brain Damage Control monthly to HT, and has edited two HIGH TIMES books: Pot Stories for the Soul and Psychedelic Trips for the Mind.
I had planned to begin this column about cigarettes with a quote from federal drug czar John Walters that 4 million Americans are "addicted to a drug [marijuana] more dangerous than heroin, cocaine, PCP, cigarettes or alcohol," but apparently it was a hoax reported by Progressive Review.
"We got it from a normally reliable drug news service," editor Sam Smith told me, "and Walters had been saying some bizarre things of late, so we fell for it."
The fact is that cigarettes kill 4.9 million Americans every year, but the worst that can happen with pot is maybe you’ll raid your neighbor’s refrigerator. Ironically, along with pharmaceutical and liquor companies, cigarette manufacturers Philip Morris (Marlboro, Virginia Slims) and R.J. Reynolds (Camel, Salem, Winston) founded and funded the Partnership for a Drug Free America.
In October 2002—the same month that Philip Morris reported that its profits rose 87% in the July-September period, from $2.33 billion the previous year to $4.36 billion—the World Health Organization released its new Tobacco Atlas, including a projected annual death toll of 8.4 million smokers by 2020. Half of today’s young smokers are expected to die of tobacco-related causes, with 70% of the deaths occurring in developing countries.
When the Czech prime minister was seen smoking in public, he resorted to humor: "By smoking, I contribute to the stability of the state budget. By buying cigarettes, I increase state revenues, and I will die of lung cancer, so the state won’t have to pay me a pension." Some joke, huh?
But Philip Morris, which controls almost 90% of the state-run tobacco market in Czechoslovakia, took him seriously. They commissioned a study intended to highlight a truism—that governments save huge amounts of money when citizens die prematurely—as a selling point to the Czech government, which was considering legislation to regulate cigarette smoking.
The study, a monument to cynicism, described premature deaths from cancer and emphysema as "indirect positive effects" of smoking, which lead to "savings in public health-care costs and state pensions due to early mortality of smokers." Indeed, Philip Morris was proud to inform the Czech government that they saved $1,227 for every dead smoker.
Columnist Ellen Goodman commented, "Things are changing. Tobacco companies used to deny that cigarettes killed people. Now they brag about it." A Czech public health suggested that "the best recommendation for the government would be to kill all people at the time of their retirement. It’s very effective economically." And a British antismoking activist called the study "an extermination program for the newly retired."
Although research for the study was limited to smoking in Czechoslovakia, Alabama reached the same conclusion four years earlier. The state’s attorney general, Bill Pryor, found that "smoking-related health costs are not excessive, because smokers die young" and other studies show that "taxpayers actually save money in costs for nursing homes, insurance, pensions and Social Security benefits, because smokers die earlier than nonsmokers."
Ethicist Robert Lederman observes that, "If millions of today’s senior citizens were to die a mere one year sooner, the US government would save hundreds of billions of dollars in health-care costs, Social Security and other social services. If they died five years sooner, the savings might amount to trillions of dollars. Viewed in that context, causing even a minor increase in premature death in the American population would be the single most cost-effective economical measure the government could take."
Over the last 20 years, the tobacco conglomerates have been pressuring gigantic drug corporations to limit their marketing of nicotine gum and skin patches that help smokers quit. The Journal of the American Medical Association documents how Philip Morris threatened Dow Chemical that it would stop buying a chemical used to moisten tobacco from them unless Dow’s subsidiary eliminated antitobacco statements from its ads for Nicorette gum.
While New York City was considering a restaurant smoking ban, two restaurant trade magazines accepted ads supporting the move, but their editors received e-mails from Philip Morris asking whether they would run the ads, insinuating that it would base its own advertising decisions on their answers. The antismoking ads were rejected. This was simply an electronic version of the Mafia’s traditional strong-arm tactics.
Recently, the British medical magazine Lancet published an article about tobacco enemas. In the 18th century, injecting tobacco smoke into the rectum was generally accepted as a method of reviving victims of drowning accidents, interchangeable with blowing air into the lungs. In London, the Institution for Affording Immediate Relief to Persons Apparently Dead from Drowning became the Royal Humane Society, and provided resuscitation kits, including tobacco enemas, at various points along the Thames.
And so we say to Philip Morris executives and their ilk, as they are drowning in their own sea of unrelenting greed, with all due disrespect: "Blow it up your ass!"