Published to the Denver Rocky Mountain News on May 14, 1997


I write in response to C.D. Zimmerman's letter of April 27, which urges Colorado to refrain, for the time being, from lawsuits against the tobacco industry. Instead of suing tobacco companies, governments around the country need to take an entirely different approach if they are really serious about reducing smoking and, therewith, medical expenses related to smoking.

Such a plan would not involve outlawing smoking. Yes, tobacco is the deadliest drug there is and, in the eyes of many, the most addictive. However, alcohol prohibition was a colossal failure, as is drug prohibition. Tobacco prohibition would be similarly disastrous.

Rather, the costs of smoking should be shifted to those who indulge in this horribly self-destructive habit. People who do not smoke should not be forced to bankroll those who do smoke, either through increased taxes or insurance premiums. There is no such thing as a right to be bailed out for the consequences of reckless behavior.

Government health programs at all levels need to stop covering self-inflicted illnesses, which include those contracted as a result of smoking. Moreover, laws mandating that private insurers cover self-inflicted maladies must also be repealed. If you play hard you should pay hard. If smokers and their families are faced with paying real money to cover smoking-related expenses, this cannot help but bring about a real decline in smoking.

If I lack compassion for smokers, so be it. The next time any of you smokers think you are entitled to shake down the taxpayers in order to foot the bill for your self-destructive behavior, ask yourself how much compassion you really have for the financial condition of people who either work very diligently to stay healthy, or who have illnesses which really are no fault of their own.

Freely Speaking: Essays by Doug Newman

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