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Outlaw Smoking To Save Millions

By Ed Koch

What would happen if Congress held hearings to determine whether or not to ban the sale of cigarettes in the United States?

You can be sure that cigarette companies would spend billions to prevent the passage of such legislation. Yet, I believe something must be done. The facts are clear. We are permitting the sale of a poisonous substance that causes millions of Americans to suffer from heart, lung and other diseases, and die prematurely. In addition to the disability and death that follow the use of cigarettes, there is the enormous cost of medical treatment, which is overwhelmingly borne, not by the patient, but by society -- by all of us.

Evidence linking smoking and cancer was reported in the 1950s. But it wasn't until 1965 that the Surgeon General warned of the dangers of cigarette smoking. The cigarette companies fought back because, as one business leader said, "A cigarette is the perfect product. It costs a penny to make, sells for a dime, and is addictive."

Efforts by tobacco companies to protect their profits sometimes shocked the American public. In 1994, the CEOs of major U.S. cigarette companies testified before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health and the Environment that in their opinion -- as I recall, not one dissented -- cancer was not caused by cigarette smoking.

Why no one was prosecuted for deliberately falsely testifying before a congressional committee is a mystery. In my opinion, even though these witnesses were deliberately misleading Congress, they were permitted to escape sanctions because of their power and wealth.

I think we should help addicted tobacco users by outlawing the manufacture and supply of cigarettes, cigars and pipe tobacco in the U.S. While some can break the addiction on their own, most cannot. I congratulate those who have stopped on their own. As reported in a June 23, 2007 The New York Times article, "the number of smokers in New York City had declined by 240,000 in the last five years." That translates into a drop of 19 percent. But more than 80 percent are still puffing away.

I don't think those who use tobacco products should be deemed criminals, only those who engage in the manufacture and sale of these products. There will, of course, be those who recall the era of prohibition against alcohol. Liquor remained available under the counter, and with the failure of law enforcement came the rise of organized crime in the takeover of the liquor industry.

However, history also shows that while the overall effort failed, health for many was improved, and crimes related to the consumption of alcohol dropped sharply. The real reason prohibition failed is because the American public did not support it, believing correctly that most people could handle liquor without becoming alcoholics and that the vast majority of citizens should not be deprived of the pleasure of alcohol in social drinking because of the few who became addicted. However, that distinction does not exist in cigarette smoking. Those who smoke today are or will become addicted.

At worst, if a ban on manufacturing and selling of cigarettes failed, we could revoke the law. In New York City, cigarette smoking was first banned in my administration in 1988 by City Council legislation. The prohibitions effected restaurants, offices and other public facilities. Subsequent administrations, particularly that of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, made the legislation even more encompassing and eliminated most of the exemptions. The public, initially in opposition, ultimately became fully supportive. Similarly, I believe that the nation would support banning the sale of tobacco.

Here in New York City when I enter my building in the morning at 8:30 a.m. there will often be a few harried souls at the entrance puffing away. If they look friendly, I often say jocularly with a smile, "Good morning, criminals." They mostly laugh and say, "Good morning, mayor."

Let's save them from themselves and save ourselves from the enormous costs entailed to society. Let's ban the manufacture and sale of tobacco products in the United States.

Cigarette smoking is not only dangerous to your health, it is a dirty, filthy habit which can give you bad breath, a wrinkled face, yellow fingers and holes in your clothes.

Michael Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg Radio. I appear as a commentator on Bloomberg Radio every week. And as all regular contributors, I am compensated by Bloomberg Radio.

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.

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