In Missouri, the smoking addiction lingers on
The Kansas City Star
Hotel rooms where I stayed earlier this year in Mexico had coffee table items that I’d not seen for 30 years in the states.
They were unadorned, clear, glass ashtrays, the kind my parents had given me to accommodate them and other guests who smoked.
My ashtrays vanished in the last two moves I made.
The ashtrays in Mexico reminded me of the artifacts and the bad habit of smoking. A swirl of smoke once clouded every family get-together.
Smoking was as American as guns.
Tobacco was a cash crop that built this country and fueled American commerce, foreign policy, the need for more land, more slaves and the westward expansion.
Tobacco is still a big part of international efforts to keep people smoking. The same holds true in Missouri, nearly a Third World state compared with others.
At 17 cents a pack, Missouri has the lowest cigarette tax in the nation.
Instead of raising the tax to 90 cents to slow sales, reduce health care costs and increase longevity, Missourians in November voted it down.
The low tax encourages smokers, and a lot of people seem proud of that. The Republican-dominated state legislature appears to not care much about health. Smoking is good for business.
During visits with family in the St. Louis area, it is always a shock that at restaurants and bars, workers ask whether I want to be seated in smoking or nonsmoking sections. At hotels, front-desk personnel ask whether I want a smoking or nonsmoking room.
Each seems so foreign in the Kansas City area, where smoking bans prevent people from lighting up in restaurants and bars, and hotels have to provide a smoke-free atmosphere for guests. The western part of the state and Kansas have done the right thing for citizens. Kansas City was even considering banning smoking in parks.
Casinos are another matter altogether.
Cigarettes, gambling and alcohol combine at casinos to attract people, and conservative Missouri lawmakers aren’t about to do a thing to stop that.
Missouri is backward in that way. But the federal government keeps trying. Surgeon General warning labels for decades on cigarettes advise that smoking is a health hazard.
The government wants more graphic warning labels on cigarette packs connected with a 2009 anti-smoking law. Tobacco companies are fighting it.
Big Tobacco needs new smokers for a product that demands consumption. It’s addictive similar to heroin, which takes a lot of willpower and support to overcome.
Every day about 3,800 U.S. young people try cigarettes for the first time.
Many will grow up with a smoking habit.
If they shake it, more young people will replace them as smokers. By the time the smoking habit runs its course, hundreds will die from smoking-related ailments. Not even Obamacare can save us from the collective agony and public health expense.
Since 1998, tobacco industry settlements with the federal government amount to billions of dollars.
The money should be used for tobacco prevention programs. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined that governments need to spend a minimum of $3.7 billion each year to do more to prevent the smoking problem.
The actual spending on ending smoking is less than a fifth of what’s needed. In Missouri, citizen initiatives through ballot campaigns are likely to continue to fail to raise the state’s tobacco tax. The vote in November showed the tobacco sellers’ strength in Missouri.
While the state legislature fiddles and does nothing, more people in Missouri will die from smoking-related diseases. They include heart disease, cancer, strokes and diabetes.
These are chronic illnesses in which treatment subtracts from lives in painful ways. It also results in individuals, their families and friends hoping for a cure, hoping for an end to the suffering and hoping that when death finally comes, it will be merciful.
Life would be better for all without smoking and if ashtrays remained artifacts of the past. But for now in Missouri, the addiction lingers and so do the medical costs that all of us pay.
To reach Lewis W. Diuguid, call 816-234-4723 or send email to Ldiuguid@kcstar.com.