Sunday, November 14, 2010

Smoke and mirrors

  No one disputes that cigarettes are dangerous to not only the user’s health, but to anyone who is around the smoke. It used to be OK to smoke at your desk at many of my jobs. At one company, smoking was banned except for a ‘smoking room’. The room was an office in the bowels of the building. It had no furniture, except for chairs lined up against the walls. When you went down there to have a smoke, we would all sit in a circle watching each other smoke, like some sort of AA meeting. At my first job in Iowa, I could smoke at my desk, but after a couple of years the building was smoke free and the smokers would huddle around the lone outside ashtray to smoke, even in the harsh Iowa winters. We visited my father-in-law in South Carolina a few years ago and all the restaurants had cigarette vending machines. We ate at a Cracker Barrel and sat in the smoking section. Since we weren’t smoking, we got a lot of dirty looks from all the smokers around us and I almost bought a pack just to keep one lit in the ashtray at all times, but we managed to get through our meal without any violence.

  The government is always torn between trying to get people not to smoke and spending the tax revenue that smokers contribute. In Iowa, smoking was banned at all public restaurants, but smoking was still allowed at the casinos since the government gets a big cut out of their profits. You can see a carpet of cigarette butts outside any bar in town from where the people hang out to smoke. If only they were gamblers AND alcoholics, they could satisfy all their addictions form the comfort of their gaming table.

  The latest government initiative to keep people from smoking is to replace the little warning about the dangers of smoking with large graphic pictures of corpses, cancer-ravaged mouths, and other disgusting smoking related pictures
(See pictures here). While this initiative will make a lot of bureaucrats feel good, I doubt it will stop anyone from smoking. The dangers of smoking are very well known. If anything, cigarette sales may increase since the new graphic pictures may become collectors items like baseball cards. Some nuns from Baltimore recently sold an old Honus Wagner baseball card for a quarter of a million dollars (story here). Guess where the card came from? Yes, a pack of 1909 cigarettes. If the model for one of the corpses on your next pack of cigarettes turns out to be the next Johnny Depp, you could be a millionaire someday.

  While the government is discouraging smoking by making smokers look at pictures, the city of San Francisco is attempting to discourage kids from eating junk food by preventing fast food restaurants from including toys in meals that are do not meet nutritional guidelines
(Story here) . Presumably, McDonalds and the like will switch to healthy meals in order to continue to lure the kids into the stores with the toys. I think this misses the point that greasy, fat-filled burgers and fries and sugar-filled soda taste better than celery sticks and salt-free crackers, toys or not. There are no toys at the supermarket in the soda aisle, but the kids still want Coke and Pepsi instead of milk or juice. The toys used to serve as an inducement for the parents to get their children a meal, now they are expected and just used by the fast food chains to compete against each other for fast food loyalty. I can’t imagine the ban on toys getting past a court challenge. Even if the US courts uphold the ban, the World Trade Organization may rule that the ban on cheap plastic toys isn’t allowed due to the negative impact on the Far East countries that produce them. Maybe San Francisco can take a page out of the government’s book and put pictures of obese kids on the meal bags and toy wrappers.

  I'd like to see the government ban smoking and fast food. There are benefits beyond the improved health of the nation. Which would you rather see smuggled illegally into the country, cocaine and methamphetamines or Marlboros and Big Macs?