In Defense of Smokers


As a doctor, I’m well aware of the negative health effects of smoking. Studies show a life time of smoking subtracts an average of ten years from your life expectancy. I’m also aware of the considerable health costs of treating smoking-related illnesses, such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, heart disease and stroke. Other studies suggest that non-smokers actually generate higher health care costs because they live ten years longer. This research receives limited publicity. The Center for Disease Control prudently chooses not to promote the cost savings associated with premature death.

Owing to a chronic sinus condition, I’m also painfully aware of the effects of second hand smoke. Prior to the public ban on smoking, I had no choice but to avoid public areas (restaurants, bars, theaters and even airplanes) where smoking was likely to occur.

The Stigmatization of Smokers

However, as an organizer and civil libertarian, I’m also extremely wary the increasing stigmatization of smokers – especially when I read that employers are using “smoker status” as a justification for not hiring people. In this regard, I think the right wing may be justified in labeling liberals who lobby for smoking bans as “green fascists.” In an era were corporate and government interests are looking for every possible opportunity to pit working Americans against one another, it’s counterproductive to be hypercritical of lifestyle choices.

Most progressives know better than to stigmatize the unemployed and homeless. Yet many of us don’t give a second thought about villainizing smokers, alcoholics, fat people – and, might I add, gun owners. All four are popular targets right now. I blame this on liberals’ willingness to embrace what is essentially conservative ideology – the need to take “personal responsibility” for our lives.

The Cult of Personal Responsibility

Taking “personal responsibility” simply ain’t going to cut it right now. Not for millions of unemployed Americans, nor the million plus homeless, nor for thousands of families facing imminent foreclosure and/or eviction. And singling out designated groups for bad lifestyle choices distracts us from the real problem in the US – a concerted attack by Wall Street and our corporate-controlled President and Congress on working people.

Decades of epidemiological research (see prior blog on Dr Stephen Bezruchka) show that lifestyle choices account for only 10% of the causation of illness. If we’re really serious about improving Americans’ abysmal health status (near the bottom for industrial countries), it’s time to address the real cause of poor health. Study after study shows a direct link between their extreme income disparity and Americans’ high rate of both acute and chronic illness.

It’s time to focus on the real problem – the corporate deregulation and tax cuts responsible for extreme income equality in the US. Instead of scapegoating smokers and fat people.

photo credit: cszar via photopin cc

13 thoughts on “In Defense of Smokers

  1. Hi Doc – Just another example of the left’s pre-occupation with anything but the “workers”. Last week there was a big brouhaha over feminists using the word “vagina”. The complaints came from those who thought the word was exclusionary – to trans-men.

    Meanwhile half the nation is living from paycheck to paycheck.



    • As an aside, Toritto, I don’t believe any of this is accidental. As far as I can see most of the worker bashing originates from left gatekeeping foundations, who get a lot of their funding from the CIA and right wing corporates. A classic divide and rule strategy by the ruling elite.


  2. You’re not implying that a nation that makes cheap, highly addictive streets drugs easily available to people then puts them in jail for using said drugs while the gangster bankers and everyone on their payroll stuff their pockets would be guilty of being hypocritical? A nation built on big tobacco now penalizes it’s customers? The irony of it all. Apparently, workers must not smoke, drink, organize, have FB accounts or less than stellar credit to get jobs.


  3. This pretty well destroys the Myth of second hand smoke:

    Lungs from pack-a-day smokers safe for transplant, study finds.

    By JoNel Aleccia, Staff Writer, NBC News.

    Using lung transplants from heavy smokers may sound like a cruel joke, but a new study finds that organs taken from people who puffed a pack a day for more than 20 years are likely safe.

    What’s more, the analysis of lung transplant data from the U.S. between 2005 and 2011 confirms what transplant experts say they already know: For some patients on a crowded organ waiting list, lungs from smokers are better than none.

    “I think people are grateful just to have a shot at getting lungs,” said Dr. Sharven Taghavi, a cardiovascular surgical resident at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, who led the new study………………………

    Ive done the math here and this is how it works out with second ahnd smoke and people inhaling it!

    The 16 cities study conducted by the U.S. DEPT OF ENERGY and later by Oakridge National laboratories discovered:

    Cigarette smoke, bartenders annual exposure to smoke rises, at most, to the equivalent of 6 cigarettes/year.


    A bartender would have to work in second hand smoke for 2433 years to get an equivalent dose.

    Then the average non-smoker in a ventilated restaurant for an hour would have to go back and forth each day for 119,000 years to get an equivalent 20 years of smoking a pack a day! Pretty well impossible ehh!


  4. 1. Smokers work an hour less on average when they can’t smoke indoors. (Fumes or stink etc). Rational choice: do not hire. My fathers workplace looses a day each day, work that has to be done and is done by others. This is true employment as a right, instead of efficient, lean economy. They suck the free time of others, just like interests and rents do. It is getting something for nothing.
    2. Did you actually see and compare fresh organs from smokers and non-smokers/drinkers? (Not absolutely clean, but chain smokers and heavy drinkers)
    But I concur that the so called left abandonded the workers and oppressed. The vagina-thing happens in Germany too and many suspect it is a CIA plot of “Zersetzung”. (Attrittion?)


  5. Well Tubularsock does not like to be around cigarette smoke but having smokers huddled outside in order to smoke isn’t the solution in my opinion. Having workplaces where non-smokers piss away the day but appear to be working ….. calculate that if one is worried about doing nothing for something!

    My main interest in all of this is an aspect that is seldom considered in the smoking debates ……. the health of smoking. Tubularsock believes that ALL disease has a major component that is seldom addressed ………. mental health.

    Now not all people are alike but I have experienced many “healthy” people that smoke. And who’s life expectancy far exceeded what the “experts” keep throwing around as “fact”. From this I’ve concluded that for some people the effect of smoking keep them from having disease because of the calming affect of a “good-smoke”.

    Now Tubularsock doesn’t smoke cigarettes and I don’t like second-hand smoke but there is got to be a way to include everyone in a work place environment and get away from this stigma orientation.


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