A Tobacco Farmer Speaks Out

GERALD WALKER is not a tobacco fanmer, He is an editor living in New York City, and the co-author of THE CONSUMERS UNION REPORT ON SMOKING AND THE PUBLIC INTEREST.

I see that the government’s going after the tobacco industry again. Well, it just won’t wash. How often must we go through this? When will the bureaucrats stop knuckling under to the anti-tobacco crowd? For years these so-called health crusaders yammered away about that “statistical correlation” business. All right. The tobacco industry conceded that point, didn’t it? Next was “causative factors,” and the industry gave in on that too. Finally, we came to “definite causes,” and even then the official industry spokesman declared (and I quote), “Facts are facts, and we in the tobacco industry believe in facing up to them.”

The basic fact that needs facing, of course, is that so far despite the industry’s openhanded investment of millions in research — an amount almost the equivalent of one tenth of one percent of its total advertising budget — there is still no known way of removing harmful ingredients from cigarette smoke. This is nobody’s fault, certainly. Science is trying; but science cannot always be rushed. If the tobacco industry has learned to live with this elementary fact of life, why can‘t the health crowd?

Second, it’s well known that the smoking-health scare is being used by the big-government centralizers to whittle away still more at our cherished American liberties. But when an industry lives up to its obligations, what need is there for more regulation?

I need cite just one striking example of the business conscience in action: the cigarette coupon medical insurance plan. When this was begun three years ago, it was described in certain quarters as just another public relations gimmick, a diversionary tactic, a smoke screen, if you will — the usual guff. Well, figures are not yet available for the fiscal year just drawing to a close, but the results of the first two years speak for themselves. Over 232,000 Americans of smoking age (fifteen or older) received treatment for lung cancer at the sixty-eight regional tobacco industry treatment centers; this total included 163,000 full-scale surgical operations for the removal of cancerous lungs.

Now, mind you, none of this treatment cost the patients a single penny. All medical expenses were prepaid, as more people should be made aware, by means of the coupons attached to all cigarette packs sold in this country. Careful planning has kept administrative expenses at a minimum. Thus, under the plan a nickel is credited to the medical account of each smoker for each coupon, the coupons themselves being self-mailers addressed to the cigarette companies with a space for the smoker’s name and account number.

So far, the plan has proved to be statistically sound. The more packs a person smokes, the more valuable medical insurance credit he builds up. Obviously, this is the American way. What more do these health nuts want?