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Front Page » February 11, 2014 » Opinion » The Advocate's Devil
Published 604 days ago

The Advocate's Devil

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Editor emeritus

The second coming of second hand smoke

Those of you who are old enough will remember the ads that informed us that more doctors recommended Kool more than any other brand of cigarette. Or was it Salem? Old-time frequent fliers will remember the sound of lighters clicking and the sight of blue haze in the back rows when the pilot finally turned off the no-smoking light.

The evils of those days are in the past now. Big Tobacco tried its best to deny and obfuscate the harm that cigarettes did: no statistical linkage proving that cigarettes actually caused cancer, emphysema and heart disease, for example. So we got the Surgeon General's warning on the pack. Then, of course, since cigarette, cigar and pipe smoke were no good for the intentional smokers, the emissions were obviously harmful for non-smokers who happened to be exposed to smoke.

So the smokers and their smoke were sequestered out in the cold, 25 feet from any doors and windows.

Then came the burden of taxes.

Speak of the Devil

Speaking of sequestration and taxes, how about all this talk about sequestering carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions and a carbon tax?

What brought this question up was a discussion among ethicists published recently in the New York Times. It was a long recap of back-and-forth comments on the question of the morality of exporting tobacco and fossil fuels.

It was surprising at first to see both products mentioned in the same sentence, especially on subject of morality. Is our local economic base somehow immoral because it contributes to the gigatons of carbon dioxide going into the air? Are coal miners and support industries somehow comparable to tobacco farmers and Big Tobacco?

The answer is probably not. The reason, cited by one contributor to the discussion, was that coal, oil and natural gas support the global economy. Their product is life-sustaining energy, with a byproduct of emissions. The product of the tobacco industry, in contrast, is purely emissions. Tobacco smoke, it was reasoned, has no redeeming social value.

But the fact that such a topic even came up for discussion sends up some warning signals. I'd bet that most of the people in this country could not tell you where their electricity comes from, and it's not even worth betting to note that most people have never been anywhere near a coal mine or draw any linkage between their own well-being and that of the miners.

Having watched what happens when some issue becomes a multi-partisan moral crusade, as happened to tobacco, I'm getting a little bit leery of where the subject of fossil fuels is heading.

All I can say is that it doesn't seem likely that we'll see any ads advising us that more doctors recommend coal more than any other brand of fossil fuel.

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