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Tobacco giants are capitalizing on stupidity


THEY ARE, if you listen to the hype, worse than the Antichrist. They have caused death, disease and misery. They deceived the public about the nature of their product and have tried to ensnare the young. They are, of course, tobacco-company owners.

State governments have nailed them with lawsuits, on behalf of all those taxpayers who've had to foot the bill for tobacco-related illnesses. Recently, the companies reached a $206 billion agreement with 46 states that will end the lawsuits. Maryland's cut is $4.2 billion.

What is it tobacco-company owners have done that is so wrong? They have capitalized on human stupidity. For that, they should be commended, not demonized.

I'll say it right up front. I'm looking for a way to cash in on human stupidity. I could retire early, grow filthy rich and not have another financial worry in my life. I can't choose tobacco, because the owners of Philip Morris and R. J. Reynolds Co. got there first-est with the most-est. They've carefully targeted the consumers who'll make them the richest: American smokers.

And smokers are -- come on, let's admit it -- stupid. I could be nice and use a politically correct phrase like "cognitively challenged." But they're stupid -- depressingly so.

They start off, probably in their teen years, using a product that, to put it kindly, simply stinks. Forget for the moment the health risks associated with smoking. We'll get to those later. But even at its most harmless, smoking is a stinky, disgusting habit.

The tobacco smoke smells up the smoker's clothes. It smells up the clothes and hair of anyone nearby. It leaves the smoker with skank breath that could drop a charging rhinoceros at 50 paces. It stains the teeth, leaving them with a dirty, yellow, haven't-been-brushed- in-weeks look. How stupid are smokers? They think they smell good and their teeth look just fine.

Add to that the health risks: lung cancer and heart and respiratory diseases. Why would anyone pick up or continue the habit? It has to be stupidity. It's part of the human condition: We will do things to our bodies we know will harm them. Why do we do it? Who knows?

Teen smoking rises in spite of a concerted advertising campaign designed to prevent it. We grown-ups will say that teens have a hormonal imperative to be stupid, but adults are little better.

People of all ages continue to drive drunk, ignoring legal sanctions against it. Drug users continue to snort, shoot up and smoke the controlled, dangerous substance of their choice, probably while sitting in front of the latest anti-drug commercial on their tubes. Anti-drug education programs, while admirable, are doomed to fail.

Most folks get their anti-drug education at a young age. I got well-educated at the age of 9 or 10, and none of my elders had to say a word to me. It seems two guys came to my aunt's house looking for my cousin, who was a teen-ager. They asked to use the bathroom, a request my kind aunt granted. Then they callously and arrogantly shot up heroin in my aunt's bathroom and came out nodding. My cousin caught hell when he got home, just for knowing somebody who used drugs. Lying in bed on the third floor of the West Baltimore house, I could hear my aunt and uncle roaring about the evils of "dope" from the first floor.

"I don't know what dope is," I said to myself, "but I'm steering clear of the stuff."

Another lesson came a few years later, when former Baltimore Colts defensive tackle Eugene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb was found dead of a drug overdose just above a bar that was a few doors from our house on Brice Street. The news reports used that "dope" word again.

"Boy, if this dope stuff can take down 6 feet, 6 inches and 275 pounds of Big Daddy Lipscomb," I said to myself, "what will it do to me?" Thus ended the drug-education lesson.

America's drug business is booming, thanks to those who stupidly indulge in drugs. The tobacco companies buy off 46 states, secure in the knowledge that their future profits are secure, thanks to stupid smokers. You can never go wrong, it seems, investing in human hedonism. Doing harm to our bodies is our passion.

L That's why you'll never see your dog puffing on a cigarette.

Pub Date: 12/20/98

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