Call them Susan and Roger, to protect their privacy. I met them twenty-five years ago in Washington, D.C. and their journalistic output, as contributors various trade publications was prodigious.
They worked hard, were incorruptible and had an intricate sense of humor as they chronicled their way through Washington’s world of lobbying. They also smoked heavily.
Many a time I would walk into Susan’s office at the National Press Building only to meet a cloud of smoke around her pleasant and polite demeanor. The ashtray was filled with butts as she typed page after page of copy.
Nudging lightly both Roger and Susan about their smoking and the latest Surgeon General’s findings regarding damage to smokers’ health would bring forth acquiescence with the medical evidence but no change in their habit.
Now they are in their Sixties. Roger and Susan are dying — slowly and painfully. They are still writing from their home, although at a reduced level. Nothing is wrong with their constitution except what the cigarettes did to their lungs. Susan has deep emphysema and Roger has lung cancer.
They are giving away their collections of Congressional hearings, novels, and records to citizen groups and friends. They maintain a courageous amount of good cheer and are trying not to be a burden on their children.
But the pain cannot De suppressed. Susan walks six steps and gasps repeatedly for breath. She needs oxygen nearby at all times.
Roger knows that his insufferable pain is yet to come and, having read widely about his ailment, he lives in dread.
Two intelligent people knew what they were doing to themselves but couldn’t stop. They were too busy to stop, or they would stop some day, but that day did not come for a very long time. They were very much behaving like the 400,000 Americans whom the Surgeon General says will die this year from tobacco-related diseases.
When you year these statistics, they seem very abstract and coldblooded. They do represent people all over the country — your neighbors, your friends, associates and perhaps members of your family. Nicotine, say the specialists, is one of the most addictive drugs around. No one knows this better than the tobacco companies.
The papers report that the tobacco companies are making more money per pack of cigarette than ever before. They’ve got the automated production line moving fast. Their principal problem is losing 5000 customers a day. Almost 4000 American quit smoking a day and a little over 1000 American dies from that weed daily.
So, would you expect, 27 years after the first Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health came out, the tobacco companies to concede anything? Well, they still deny that smoking causes lung cancer, other respiratory ailments, heart disease etc.
Tobacco promotions are off the television. But they are on billboards, in newspapers, magazines, all over ballparks and encased in free sample packages that somehow find their wag to youngsters quite frequently.
The non-smokers movement is gaining on this cancer industry. Other countries are banning cigarette advertising. The social stigma is increasingly on the smoker, not as in former years, on the non-smoker. The percentage of American adults who smoke is now down to 29% and falling.
But to Susan and Roger, it is too late. They will give nearly 20 years of their life expectancy to their addiction and to the deliberate addictive culture that the tobacco companies have promoted so insidiously, using billions of dollars a year, movie stars (including Ronald Reagan), athletes and other “healthy” people.