Thursday, November 29, 2012

capitalism & addiction

I began smoking 54 years ago. Both the adults in my immediate family smoked heavily, as did all the males in my extended family, so I saw smoking from a 14-year-old point of view, as simply an essential part of the coming-of-age process.

I knew it was addictive before I started, but since all the adult guys around me seemed down with it, I thought addiction must be kind of cool. Then there were the TV ads featuring the Marlboro Man, with his rippling, tattooed biceps and cowboy hat. Only later did I figure out that these sales pitches were crafted specifically with 99-pound adolescents like myself in mind.

Ten years later I deeply regretted ever having started, but by then it was too late. I swore I would rid myself of this savage addiction if it was the last thing I ever did, and it just might be.

I no longer smoke, but I'm still wearing a patch that delivers seven milligrams of nicotine to my bloodstream over 24 hours. The patch was supposed to be a 70-day program, but mine has gone on for five years.

Seven milligrams is the smallest patch. The program's steps are 21-14-7, and I'm planning at a nicotine-free new year. It will be hard, but I think it's doable.

I smoked for 50 years, smoked occasionally for four more after that, and this year have depended exclusively on the transdermal patch to satisfy the demands of this worst of all possible drug addictions.

I have emphysema, as did my parents and their fathers before them, and later today will attend my thrice-weekly pulmonary rehab class at a local hospital. It seems to me none of this might have happened if not for the capitalistic imperative that the only relevant consideration in marketing a product is the bottom line, and that if you have to deliberately promote drug addiction among adolescents to keep the profit stream flowing and expanding, then whatever it takes is permissible, and in fact desirable.

Yesterday, Reuters carried the story of the latest judgment against the big tobacco retailers: Major tobacco companies that spent decades denying they lied to the U.S. public about the dangers of cigarettes must spend their own money on a public advertising campaign saying they did lie, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.

The ruling sets out what might be the harshest sanction to come out of a historic case that the Justice Department brought in 1999 accusing the tobacco companies of racketeering.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler wrote that the new advertising campaign would be an appropriate counterweight to the companies' "past deception" dating to at least 1964.

I don't blame the Philip Morris company 100% for my lifetime of struggle with their product, but they share the same part of the blame as any other dope dealer, which is what they are. I think of these firms, along with war profiteers, as the ultimate capitalists; they have taken the maxim that "Anything that supports the bottom line is desirable" to its ultimate logical conclusion.

Today, few adolescents begin smoking, since they (and we) are exposed to massive amounts of anti-tobacco propaganda. There is no more cigarette advertising. In a sane society, that's how it would have been all along.

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