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What's Happening in America?

Marvin R. Shanken, Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
Catherine Zeta-Jones, September/October 2009

In early July, a report by the Institute of Medicine, a private non-governmental agency, urged the U.S. military to impose a smoking ban. We were dumbfounded. How can you ask a person to join up to fight for his country, head off to a war zone, and then say, "Oh, by the way, you can't smoke. It's too dangerous."? The Pentagon agreed. A few days later, the Pentagon brass announced that while they were committed to reducing smoking in the military's ranks, they weren't going to ban smoking any time soon.

Think about it. Tobacco is a legal product in the United States. But someone thinks it is okay to go around suggesting that people who work for the government should be denied access to a legal product. There was a public outcry about the report from soldiers who said a cigarette or a cigar helped them survive the stress of their jobs, especially in combat. We knew that was true. We can't begin to count the number of letters, pictures and requests for cigars that we've gotten from soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq telling us how much they enjoy a smoke with their comrades.

We're glad the Pentagon came to its senses.

But the campaign to demonize tobacco isn't letting up. Parade magazine ran an article in May authored by Dr. Ranit Mishori. It was headlined "The Hidden Dangers of Cigars," and it manipulated every piece of data it could to support that headline. We don't have room here to point out every misconception and exaggeration but one struck us as particularly unfair.

It cited a study that showed that at two cigar social events in San Francisco, higher levels of carbon monoxide were reported than on a busy California freeway. Even if you give the study the benefit of the doubt, how can you compare a freeway, where many drivers sit for hours every day of the workweek, with cigar social events that people might attend once or twice a year. I guess we should ban driving on freeways to preserve a person's health.

The anti-tobacco forces, with public faces like Dr. Mishori, don't tell you the full story; yes, burning tobacco produces benzene, a known carcinogen; so does driving your car on a freeway. Yes, formaldehyde exists in burning tobacco; you breathe more formaldehyde cooking with your gas stove in your kitchen. Yes, cigars have more tobacco than a cigarette, but just because something is bigger doesn't make it more dangerous. Most people don't inhale cigars. Most people smoke one or two a day, at most. The anti-tobacco zealots refuse to engage in the debate that is at the core of toxicology—is there a dose above which something becomes a poison? Why? Because by engaging in that debate, they have to acknowledge there is a level below which the risks are minimal, like smoking a cigar a day.

No, the truth is straightforward. The people aligned against tobacco want to ban it completely. They will bend the facts, exaggerate the risks and use any means to create their desired outcome. We don't say that there aren't risks in smoking cigars. But we believe that people's decision to smoke should be taken in its whole context, including the benefits of relaxation. They should be able to make their own choice with rational analysis of all the risks and not have to deal with falsehoods and scare tactics.

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