Saturday, March 10, 2007

How Dare They Promote Healthier Behavior

Whenever I hear any pro-smoking argument, it always seems to come off as this arrogant, self-entitled rant that basically equates to: "If you don't like it, fuck you."

Why is that, I wonder. Maybe because that's really all it is. Some people realize their habit is unhealthy and can admit it. I have no problem with that; in fact, I can almost respect it. It's the people who are obdurate about it to the extent that they feel a "No Smoking" sign is a violation of their basic human rights that confound and frustrate me.

Iowa is currently planning to raise their tobacco tax a full dollar per pack of cigarettes, with as much as much as $1.50 proposed per item on the harder and more damaging tobacco products like cigars and chewing tobacco. The governor is adamant about it, and the bill flew through the Iowa Senate and is currently expecting a swift House resolution. Of course, I've been catching a number of self-righteous radio advertisements over the past couple of months, no doubt backed by the tobacco industry or by "independent" pro-smoking organizations that you'd probably find, if you delve far enough into their accounting records, have been backed by the tobacco industry, encouraging smokers to write to their Iowa representatives to vote down the proposed tobacco tax legislation.

My initial idea for this article was to simply spoof these tobacco industry ad spots with subtle satire like: "They say that they're increasing the taxes to accommodate the health care demands that result from caring for smoking-related health problems, but everyone knows that smoking doesn't actually lead to any known health conditions." Which does sound like something the tobacco industry would put in one of their manipulative ad campaigns. I mean, no one really bothers to censor these things beyond making sure they don't curse outright. That's how the cable and telecommunications industry could get away without outright lying about the ramifications of
Net neutrality last fall, because it's up to the consumers to research and find out whether or not anything they see on TV or hear on the radio is actually true. It's only to the benefit of the industries that most people don't, and take whatever they see on TV at face value.

Considering that Iowa is one of the lowest taxed states in the nation when it comes to tobacco products — you can literally purchase many brands of cigarettes in Iowa for under $2 per pack after sales tax has been included — it seems fairly reasonable to try to bring them up to speed, especially since the profits will reportedly go toward smoking-related health care and smoking cessation campaigns. Still, I had a hard time appropriately getting in the "head" of the tobacco inudstry's marketing personnel, so I had to do some research of my own to try to spoof their ad campaign. Despite the common sense to know that smoking is unhealthy, I had to figure out exactly how they pitch such a completely unhealthy vice in a way that makes it seem not only healthy, but attractively so. That is when I realized that any pro-smoking argument is so absurd that instead of satirizing it, I'd be much more content to simply rant about it.

The first argument that critics of the proposed tax hike bring up is how severely it will adversely affect retailers that sell cigarettes. They cite examples of how retailers in other states all lost money one of several ways when those states raised their taxes. One of the ways is that smokers who expected the tax hike bought a surplus of their favorite carcinogens before the tax went into effect. Of course, this will cause a drop off in sales for a month or two, but considering that cigarettes are consumable items, it's inevitable that they'll run out eventually.

The other way is that smokers who lived on the border of states that sold tobacco cheaper simply crossed the state lines to buy the products. Right now, I happen to live on the border of a state that charges less for cigarettes than my own state. That state is Iowa. Yes, some people do cross to Iowa to buy their cigarettes as well as gas, which is also cheaper. However, you know what? A LOT of people still buy their cigarettes and gas in Illinois. As convenient as it is to get to Iowa, a lot of people will forgo the dollar or two they might save because it's more convenient to just buy their cigarettes and gas down the street, on their way to or from work.

Both of these arguments are absurd, and their absurdity is evident when the detractor contradicts himself when criticizing the belief that raising tobacco taxes pursuades consumers to quit smoking. Just after exercising the emotional trump card of appealing to the concern for local small businesses, the detractor will try to refute the connection of higher tobacco taxes to smoking cessation by providing evidence that after several months, tobacco sales balanced out and no significant decrease in the sale of tobacco products occurred. So just after arguing that higher tobacco taxes would hurt local business that depend on tobacco sales, they provide conclusive evidence that tobacco sales didn't significantly decrease as a result of the higher taxes.

Where I live in Illinois, people will gladly pay upwards of five dollars for a pack of cigarettes, even knowing that they could currently get the same pack for over two dollars less only a few miles down the road in Iowa. In Chicago, people pay upwards of eight dollars or more for the same cigarettes. And you know what? People pay that, willingly. Even with the one dollar increase, Iowans will only be paying close to, and in many cases still less than what residents pay just across the river in Illinois. God forbid they had to pay upwards of eight dollars per pack; they'd probably pop their trach ring. The point is that the argument that the tax hike will hurt local businesses is illogical, and its absurdity is so apparent that the critic can't even employ it without refuting himself. People may feel indignant at first, but eventually they'll grow complacent and lazy enough to just accept it. As Denis Leary once said, "
Doesn't matter how big the warnings are or how much they cost. Keep raising the prices, we'll break into your houses to get the fucking cigarettes, ok!? They're a drug, we're addicted, ok!? Numm numm numm numm numm *wheeze*
"

Smoking advocates argued against the proposal of using the tax hike to levy the burden of state-funded health care for smoking-related illnesses. They address the fact that the tax money wouldn't just be spent solely on smoking-related health problems, but on all sorts of health problems that have nothing to do with smoking. Yet no one is increasing taxes on alcohol, food, or sex aids to compensate the burden that alcoholism, obesity, and sexual promiscuity places on the health care system. They begrudge having their vice of choice levy the health care for others', but they ignore the fact that for years the taxes of those other vices had to help levy the health care of smokers, and would continue to do so without the tax increase. It's this sort of pretentious arrogance that makes me think of pro-smoking arguments as the selfish declarations of entitlement that they generally are.

One of my absolute favorite lines from a counterargument was: "
It targets lower-income people by trying to tax them into healthier behavior.
" Oh God! Not healthier behavior! Anything but healthier behavior! How can you remotely expect to be taken seriously in a pro-smoking argument when you admit outright that smoking is unhealthy? Not only that, but admitting that the people you're arguing against has everyone's best interests in mind just makes you look like a third-degree black belt of asshole.

What smokers and smoker sympathizers have to realize is that smoking is not a necessity, therefore it's not a basic human right. It's a choice. It's a vice. It's something that you can not only do without, but that you'd do much better without. If you're continue to smoke when you can't afford it, you're an idiot, I can only feel so sorry for you. At that point, perhaps it's not the government's fault or society's fault that you're poor.

Of course, people who read this probably think I'm being heartless about something I don't understand. People are quick to point out to unsympathetic non-smokers how hard it is to quit smoking. No, I've never quit smoking. I don't know first-hand what a smoker goes through when quitting. However, I do know something about withdrawals. I spent several years of my military career on an antidepressant called Effexor to balance the anxiety and depression that being a victim of the oppressive military system caused me, and once I was finally able to separate from the military, I realized I didn't need an antidepressant anymore. So I decided to try to quit.

I understand that smoking has some irritating and even troubling withdrawal symptoms, but Effexor's withdrawal symptoms are so severe that people are
literally afraid to even taper off it. I couldn't taper off it, though, because I didn't have the money or insurance last year to see a psychiatrist. To taper, I had to cut my dosage in half and then in half again. Overall, the physical withdrawals from nicotine last approximately two weeks. I spent a grand total of about three months experiencing Effexor withdrawals which included, but were not limited to, severe nausea, migraines, elevated, irrational emotional responses, and "brain zaps," which I can only describe as spasmodic interruptions of consciousness that hit like an electric shock to the brain. I'm no stronger or weaker than any other human being. If I can force myself to survive that for three months, surely any smoker can survive two weeks' worth of shakes, irritability and cravings. So don't even dare accuse me of not understanding how hard it is to quit a brain altering chemical. No, I'm not sympathetic to people who refuse to quit smoking, but I'm completely compassionate to those brave enough to try.

The pro-smoking argument is not a logical one. The only way they can make their case is through emotional manipulation by falsely instilling in people their right to engage in destructive behavior and then making them feel victimized. Smoking is a choice — the human body does not require cigarettes in order to survive. You could just as easily choose to set yourself on fire or jump off a bridge, which would ultimately achieve the same outcome only much faster. Smoking is an unhealthy choice at that. If firefighters tell you not to inhale the smoke when trapped in a burning building, why would you willingly inhale the smoke from a burning tube of dried leaves, tar and pesticide?

The poor are not "being targeted" or "under attack" by this proposed tax hike. It's not unfair. They're still being given a choice. They can either choose to see this as a motivation to quit engaging in a destructive habit and ultimately enjoy more money and a healthier life, or they can choose to continue engaging in a desctructive habit and be that much poorer and more miserable. If they choose the latter, it's no one's fault but their own, and they have to accept the consequences of their own decisions.


np: Deep Purple - "Sun Goes Down"

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