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Tobacco Prohibition

Marvin R. Shanken, Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
Chuck Norris, Jul/Aug 98

A full-scale assault on cigars has been launched. Public health bureaucrats and antitobacco activists have joined forces in a one-sided attack, a campaign that seeks to stifle debate by making any pro-cigar stance seem like the devil's subversion. William Buckley noted in a recent column that any attempt to even moderate the debate is slammed with the accusation that you're ignoring lung cancer victims and condemning future generations to a fate worse than death.

America recently has been down this same path. In the early 1980s, a very strong Prohibition sentiment dominated the public health debate about alcohol. The antialcohol proponents highlighted drinking-related deaths, Skid Row bums, drunk-driving accidents and underage drinking. They proposed higher taxes, reduced liquor license availability and no-tolerance blood alcohol levels, all aimed at reducing consumption of alcohol by 25 percent by the year 2000. Alcohol was evil, they said. Any voice calling for moderation, both in drinking and in regulation, was drowned out in the rising hysteria.

But common sense won, with help from science. A European study revealed that a glass of red wine a day could reduce the risk of heart disease by 25 to 40 percent. More studies followed, some showing that moderate drinkers lived longer and had fewer diseases than abstainers. Finally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture revised its nutritional guidelines, saying that several ounces of alcohol a day in any form could be part of a healthy diet. That from a government that once tried to define all alcohol use as abuse.

I wish everyone in America understood how the anticigar campaign is being manipulated. The National Cancer Institute report says: "Cigars are as dangerous as cigarettes." That's the headline across America. But when the report admits that the studies don't really show the impact of "occasional use," defined as one cigar a day, that fact doesn't make the news. What's more, the report based part of its findings on research from European smoking studies, in which many of the "cigar-smoking" subjects smoked dry, small machine-made cigars and cigarillos as if they were cigarettes, inhaling up to 20 or more a day.

The report goes on to note that the disease profile changes depending on inhalation behavior--in other words, if you don't inhale, there's less risk. Surveys of thousands of Cigar Aficionado readers on our Web site show that nearly 90 percent of respondents smoke one cigar a day or fewer and don't inhale.The reality is, they smoke in moderation. (And these are avid cigar smokers.) They are aware of a cigar's inherent risk. Knowledge of that risk is ingrained in our culture. Everyone who smokes knows.

The other incendiary point is the supposed rise in youth smoking; but the studies cited include teenagers of legal smoking age. Those under 18 included anyone who even claimed to have puffed one cigar in the previous 12 months. Hardly a national epidemic. Furthermore, cigar manufacturers have been minor players in the tobacco industry, with a tiny fraction of the advertising budget and no manipulation of their product. Hand-rolled cigars are 100 percent tobacco, rolled into a cylinder--that's it. Most importantly, throughout its history, the industry has always aimed its products at adults, because cigars are an adult choice, a choice made with the full appreciation of what's good and bad about them. The industry doesn't market to kids, and good retailers don't sell to kids.

The point is simple. Since our inception, Cigar Aficionado has tried to educate people about the pleasures of a good cigar and the proper way to enjoy it--in moderation, without inhaling. We've challenged the bad science that is driven not by health concerns, but by an ideological, antitobacco agenda. We've encouraged cigar-friendly establishments that give cigar lovers a haven to enjoy their passion without aggravating nonsmokers. No one is asking for a return to the old days. We've promoted the idea of accommodation for smokers and nonsmokers alike. That seems fair. Turning tobacco into a twenty-first-century devil isn't, and it won't work. As a united voice, we might just stop the steamroller whose ultimate aim is to get rid of tobacco.

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