Despite a three-decade effort by the federal government to snuff out cigarette smoking, 20 percent of Americans — about 45 million — continue to light up. That percentage has remained steady for several years, and time will tell if the government’s next initiative — graphic warning labels that will appear on packages beginning late next year — will chip away further at that percentage.
We are pleased that fewer Americans are smoking than in years past; it’s a nasty habit, one that can easily destroy a smoker’s health — and even drag down the health of others in the room.
We have, however, never been comfortable with the government’s War on Tobacco that Bill Clinton launched during his presidency. Ours is a free society, and that should provide for people making poor decisions at the expense of their own health.
The government’s fascination with tobacco, and its indifference to alcohol, we find troubling. While it’s true that every puff of tobacco is harmful, and alcohol can actually be beneficial to a person’s health if consumed in moderation, there is no debate about which has caused more collateral damage. Alcohol wins, and it’s not even close, with the evidence being carnage on the highways and broken homes.
But the people who make our nation’s laws favor a snort over a puff. The next offensive, we are sure, will be on what Americans are allowed to eat. The initial salvos have been launched. Don’t invest in sugarcane.
While the War on Tobacco has enhanced the nation’s collective health, it’s been a drag on Robeson County’s economy. Staff writer Ali Rockett’s Page 1A story today provides some of the details, but here are the lowlights: This year’s tobacco crop in Robeson County will be valued at about $10 million, a fraction of what it was 20 years ago, when it was arguably the most important private industry in the county. We don’t have a calculation of how many jobs have been lost to the strangulation off the tobacco industry, both directly and peripherally, but it’s a bunch.
Much of the brick and mortar in this county was constructed with money from tobacco. and more than one fortune was made. That gives tobacco a rich legacy locally, even if it’s future is bleak.
We should remember that as we move forward to a different day.