For decades, cigarette manufacturers got away with murder. In fact, they still do.
Murder might be too harsh a term. Cigarettes are sold legally and bought willingly, so the sad truth is that smokers are still marching voluntarily to the gallows.
But the makers of cigarettes are still making obscene amounts of money by taking advantage of their customers’ inability – or weak disinclination – to resist a product most people consider disgusting and offensive.
Strong scientific suspicions linked smoking to lung cancer and perhaps other serious ailments from the early 20th Century, but manufacturers were wealthy and powerful, and it wasn’t until 1964, when the famous surgeon general’s report pinned down the connection officially.
Until then, cigarette makers claimed in ads that smoking relaxed you, easing tensions and actually making you feel better. They also bought their way into movies and television, enhancing the impression it also made you sexy and desirable.
A Lucky Strike commercial on the Jack Benny radio show on March 3, 1952, made this preposterous argument:
“Here’s an important message from the National Tobacco Tax Research Council. Last fiscal year, Uncle Sam did pretty well in balancing the national budget. After paying all expenses, he had a neat three and a half billion dollars left over in the surplus kitty.
“You cigarette smokers helped to sweeten that kitty by contributing over one and a half billion dollars in federal cigarette taxes.
“Yes, every time you buy a pack of cigarettes, you give the federal government eight cents. And most of you gave three or four cents more to city and states governments. That adds up to better than a 50% tax.
“Remember, in buying cigarettes, over half your packs go to tax.”
That eight cents was on a pack probably costing less than 20 cents. Now, a pack of cigarettes costs in the neighborhood of $10. In 2016, federal tax on a pack amounted to $1.0066, and the average state tax was $1.73. (New York, the highest-taxing state, charged $4.35; Missouri was the lowest-taxing, at 17 cents a pack.)
We should all applaud the high taxes, which help make the cost of buying cigarettes obscenely and presumably prohibitively high.
But were listeners in 1952 taken in by the American Tobacco Co.’s ridiculous claim that cigarette smokers should be hailed for boosting the federal budget picture?
Hard to say, but that was an example of the lengths manufacturers would go to in order to justify their lethal trade. They tried to peddle the idea that, by buying cigarettes, smokers were actually contributing to America’s economy.
You rarely, if ever, see cigarettes advertised today, because even smokers know there is no positive aspect of the habit. It is nothing more than government-sanctioned suicide.
Today, “modified risk” products, such as e-cigarettes, are advertised as helping quit smoking, when in fact they are just as addictive and are turning out to be about as harmful as tobacco products.
If you don’t smoke, don’t start, If you do, quit. Don’t fall for the advertising, which has been disingenuous for decades.