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Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

As an anti-smoking activist for nearly forty years, I take a back seat to no one in my opposition to the tobacco industry. However, I am skeptical of Jon Wiener's hagiography of anti-Big Tobacco historian Robert Proctor.

For one thing, Wiener endorses Proctor's practice of naming names of historians who have accepted money from the tobacco industry. Yet Wiener seems to regard the $480,000 that Proctor admits having pocketed from plaintiffs' attorneys as if this were an eleemosynary endeavor.

For another, the awful truth is that Proctor, plaintiffs' attorneys and public health professionals alike have all but ignored these uncomfortable questions: What did the health community know about the dangers of smoking? When did they know it? And what did they do about it? The anti-tobacco industry historians Wiener so glorifies have thus ceded much to the other side.

In the past thirty years of tobacco litigation, I have been either the author or the subject of hundreds of articles on the tobacco industry and anti-smoking advocacy in both scholarly journals and the lay press. Yet I have been contacted by only one historian on tobacco, Jonathan Bean, named as one of Proctor's gang of fifty in Wiener's article. Moreover, Bean contacted me for the sole purpose of verifying my allegation in medical journals and the mass media in the 1970s that hospitals had abdicated their responsibility in the fight against smoking and were still selling cigarettes in their gift shops. Bean surmised, correctly, that I would not support the claim that hospitals deserve retroactive compensation from tobacco companies.

There are few if any heroes in the tobacco issue. Historian Robert Proctor is certainly not one of them, in spite of Wiener’s biased and incompletely researched efforts in his behalf.

[The author is the director of the University of Alabama Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society.]

Alan Blum, MD

Tuscaloosa, AL

Apr 4 2010 - 11:48pm

Web Letter

There is only one solution to the tobacco debacle and that is to ban this horrid drug, which kills 5,000,000 people around the globe every year.

Those who attacked the World Trade Center were terrorists and the creeps who produce tobacco products and addict our children (not adults, as letter-writer and tobacco pusher Howard Tomb erroneously claimed) are no less criminals.

Although it's been said many times, tobacco is the only drug that is addictive, defective and lethal when used as intended. Your article should have called for a ban on this killer. Those who continue to in any way promote the brown weed should be taken to task for the sickness, injury and death they care causing.

Anyone who belives that they have already heard everything about tobacco would be wise to check out The Crime Prevention Group's "Tobacco Effects and Prevention Data."

Terry Patterson

Orlando, FL

Mar 13 2010 - 6:09pm

Web Letter

The letter from Howard Tomb is filled with the sort of incompetence and lies which one should expect from someone working and having worked for the tobacco people. Tomb asks, "First: suppose you started smoking as an adult." Most addicts began as children or young teens, not adults. So, let's not suppose, let's be realistic.

Tomb goes on to state that, "competent adults should have the right to smoke themselves to death." Once someone has begun using tobacco, the addict is brain-damaged and most certainly not a competent person. That's how addiction works. And those incompetent addicts expect the other 88 percent of Americans to subsidize their tobacco addiction; if smokers truly paid their way in society, a pack of those "coughin' nails" would now cost $50! Banning tobacco would save this country at least $200 billion dollars every year!

Finally, Tomb's assertion that "tobacco companies should be able to sell them a legal" product is absurd. It has never been legal to poison people, no matter how slowly you do it. Therefore, tobacco is actually illegal.

Your story on tobacco didn't begin to scratch the tip of the iceberg of this weapon of mass destruction. And, please, you owe a separate cover story to the 65,000 innocent Americans who are killed each year because they were exposed to the toxic tobacco smoke of those few who still smoke.

Dave Johnson

Hurst, TX

Mar 13 2010 - 10:11am

Web Letter

The tobacco pushers are criminals, pure and simple. Again, let me state: the tobacco pushers are criminals. Nothing less should be said about those who push a drug that is addictive, defective and lethal. They knowingly kill 5,000,000 addicts worldwide each and every year. As much to blame are the "friends" of the pushers: the media and others who are guilty of being accessories to the murder and genocide caused by the growing, manufacture, distribution and sale of the the weapon of mass destruction that is the tobacco drug. The only solution to tobacco is to ban the drug, now. Stop the sickness, injury and death, which are far worse than from all other drugs in toto. Then, prosecute the pushers and their friends for their high crimes.

Bill Jenkins

Dallas, TX<a name="tomb"></a>

Mar 13 2010 - 9:52am

Web Letter

I began writing speeches for executives at Philip Morris USA in 1994, just before they stopped denying that cigarettes are addictive. (They had already conceded the “link” to cancer and other fatal diseases.) Before I left the firm, it led the other major cigarette companies in agreeing to pay the states almost $250 billion--or roughly twenty-five years of their annual profit at the time--to settle injury claims.

Maybe that 1998 settlement was fair; for decades, the industry did lie and hide what it knew about the risks of smoking. The big players are still in court fighting individual injury claims, and plaintiffs’ attorneys continue to hone their ability to enrage juries with certain facts and company memos.

It’s easy to revile cigarette companies; used as directed, their product has killed millions. Feel free to revile me. But if you cheer big personal injury verdicts for former smokers, I have two questions for you:

First: suppose you started smoking as an adult, every pack you bought sported a health warning, you kept smoking for twenty years and then you got sick. How much would you deserve to get paid? Lucinda Naugle, a plaintiff described in Jon Wiener’s article who fits this description, won a $300 million judgment.

Second: how should Philip Morris get the money to pay you and Ms. Naugle?

In my view, competent adults should have the right to smoke themselves to death, and tobacco companies should be able to sell them a legal, federally regulated product without being hauled in front of hundreds of angry juries every year.

Howard Tomb

Summit, NJ

Mar 8 2010 - 12:29pm

Web Letter

Why single out tobacco companies? The dangers of smoking, including brain damage and criminal behavior, were well known in the nineteenth century. Ninety percent of convicts are smokers. At the beginning of the twentieth century, however, all mention of smoking hazards vanished from the press. After all, the tobacco industry was their biggest source of advertising revenue. Even in 2010, smoking-related brain damage, mental illness, Alzheimer's Disease, depression, suicide, alcoholism, drug abuse and criminal and psychopathic behavior are unmentionable.

See "Prevent Tobacco-Caused Brain Damage."

Mark Scott Oller

Alexandria, VA

Feb 26 2010 - 2:36pm

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