Thursday, June 23, 2011

Smoking Propaganda

When I worked at the Sheriff's Department, I was invited to attend an autopsy, something I had always wanted to do. I knew the pathologist quite well and he enjoyed having a rapt student (unlike the cop who was forced to be there and kept his face turned firmly away from the proceedings). Doctor G. explained each action as he performed it and described each body part as it took center stage.

Our lady was in her late 50's. She'd committed suicide by means of an overdose of pills. As the pathologist was examining her lungs, I asked, "was she a smoker, Doc?" I was used to the idea that certainly the lungs of a long-time smoker would be obvious even to a layperson such as myself, probably resembling lumps of charcoal rather than actual human organs.

Doctor G. smiled faintly and said, "you know you shouldn't smoke, Vic."

"But was she a smoker?"

Again, that small smile as he repeated - "you know you shouldn't smoke."

Finally, what he was saying dawned on me and I said incredulously, "you can't tell, can you? It's propaganda, isn't it?"

He showed me some black spots on our subject's lungs and told me, "anyone who lives in today's polluted society is going to exhibit some of these whether they smoke or not. But, yes, to answer your question, she was a smoker."

"Well, I'll be damned," I said.

The figures for smoking deaths are astronomical. According to the statistics, a smoker or ex-smoker dies every 6.5 seconds. That amounts to over 443,000 Americans every year, with 50,000 of the number expiring due to second-hand smoke. Of people who smoke, a third of them will die from causes related to their addiction.

Well, geez, I'll grant you that sounds pretty horrific. But hold on a minute. Are we really that confident of the numbers? My husband, for instance, died of lung cancer at age 46 and yep, he was a lifetime smoker so what do you want to bet, according to the statistics, his death was laid directly on the door step of tobacco?

But, do you think the fact that he was in Vietnam when the military was spraying Agent Orange over all and sundry like it was no more lethal than rainwater might have been a contributing factor? The Veteran's Administration must have thought so because they paid him an Agent Orange disability pension from the time he was diagnosed until his death.

And what about his working in a factory that made brake shoes and clutch facings out of lead and asbestos before OSHA came along to mandate the safety features that were installed later. Did these deadly substances play their part in his early death? Maybe. The plant owners must have worried about it since they required their employees to have respiratory testing done every six months.

But when Jim died, I bet the people who get to decide made another satisfying little check mark next to "Smoking Death".

The top ten causes of death are: 1) coronary disease, 2) stroke 3) lower respiratory infections, 4) chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 5) diarrheal disease, 6) AIDS, 7) tuberculosis, 8) tracheal-bronchus disease and lung cancer, 9) road accidents and 10) low birth weight. Of these, seven are considered to be aggravated by smoking and I expect the experts would find a way to include the other three if they could find anything at all to hang their hats on. (AIDS from sharing dirty butts?)

What do you suppose people would die of if smoking was eliminated from the face of the earth? Would they still succumb to heart attacks and strokes and respiratory infections and low birth weight or would we all just live forever?

I once read a letter to the editor by a newspaper reader who took her father's death as a personal insult because he had smoked until the last despite his family's pleas for him to quit. He was 96 years old. This is how deranged anti-smokers can be.

My own grandmother, a life time smoker, died at age 96, as well. My mother, who smoked from her teenage years until she was in her 60's, is still alive at 92. My son, who was raised in the same household with two dedicated smokers, consistently won a Presidential Physical Fitness Award every year he was in school. He rarely had to see a doctor while his best friend, whose parents didn't smoke, seemed always to be taking antibiotics.

It all reminds me of my youth in the 60's and 70's. At that time, the government's big propaganda campaign was to convince us that by smoking marijuana or doing other recreational drugs, we would all end up giving birth to deformed monster babies. Most of the people I knew back then, including me, did smoke marijuana to one degree or another. Some of us, not including me, did other drugs as well, like LSD and cocaine and speeders. Low and behold, when we began venturing into parenthood, our children were perfectly fine. With the proof right in front of our eyes, the government had to back off but what we learned from it was that our leaders will not hesitate to use scare tactics to influence social behavior.

Which is what I believe they are doing with smoking. And now the powers-that-be have developed a new campaign designed to shock us into submission because, don't you know, we have grown blase about mundane phrases like, "smoking may be hazardous to your health" and some of us are resistant even to being treated like the pariahs of society hounded out of polite company. (As opposed to drinkers who are, of course, welcome as the flowers in May to all the most elite establishments, with alcohol producers encouraged to advertise virtually anywhere, particularly in the youthful world of sports - go, Kevin Harvick in that #29 Budweiser Chevy!).

Cigarettes packs will soon have multi-sided new illustrations of cancerous lungs and skeletal babies and I don't know what all. I am seriously thinking of designing my own little stick-on labels to go over those mandated ones. I'm leaning toward a simple message - "I smoke - fuck you."