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You Live With It

By William F. Buckley

Sixty years ago I was the editor of the daily newspaper at college, and one memorable day in September, plotting the year's business, we got word that the two big tobacco companies (R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris) were suspending all their ads in the college press. The news was greeted with dismay both by editors who smoked ("We'll just die from something else," they harrumphed) and by those who did not, equally affected by this big hole in the advertising budget. Sixty years!

Pffft! This past June, a member of Congress from California and 40 of her colleagues wrote to the publishers of several magazines protesting their publication of ads for a new variety of Camel cigarette. The protesters complained that the ads and the packaging for Camel No. 9 were designed to have special appeal to girls and young women. The manufacturers have always insisted that their ads aren't intended to lure people to begin smoking, but simply to draw existing smokers away from the competitor's brand. But the congresswoman was well briefed on how to treat such sophistry.

And just this week, The New York Times reported that cigarette makers are walking away from print ads for their products and concentrating their marketing efforts on venues (bars and nightclubs, specialized Web sites) where they are less likely to attract the attention of teenagers. The reporter's narrative recalled the days when ads advised smokers that "More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette," or that Chesterfield was "best for you," but settling down, finally, on the one sure ground the tobacco industry rests on: Newport cigarettes are "alive with pleasure."

The ads, of course, took no account of those who were dead, presumably without pleasure. But practically no one has led a lifetime removed from the debate. There is often the felt need to recount personal stories, which add spice, and perhaps a little useful feeling to the argument.

My own story is that I am the founder of a doughty magazine which, if space was solicited tomorrow by a tobacco company, would agree to sell the space. We would come up with serious arguments featuring personal independence and pain/pleasure correlations to justify selling the space, but I would need to weep just a little bit on the inside over the simple existence of tobacco.

Again, the personal story. My wife began smoking (furtively) when 15, which is about when I also began. When we were both 27, on the morning after a high-pitched night on the town for New Year's Eve, we resolved on mortification of the flesh to make up for our excesses: We both gave up smoking. The next morning, we decided to divorce -- nothing less than that would distract us from the pain we were suffering. We came to, and flipped a coin -- the winner could resume smoking. I lost, and for deluded years thought myself the real loser, deprived of cigarettes. Half a year ago my wife died, technically from an infection, but manifestly, at least in part, from a body weakened by 60 years of nonstop smoking. I stayed off the cigarettes but went to the idiocy of cigars inhaled, and suffer now from emphysema, which seems determined to outpace heart disease as a human killer.

Stick me in a confessional and ask the question: Sir, if you had the authority, would you forbid smoking in America? You'd get a solemn and contrite, Yes. Solemn because I would be violating my secular commitment to the free marketplace. Contrite, because my relative indifference to tobacco poison for so many years puts me in something of the position of the Zyklon B defendants after World War II. These folk manufactured the special gas used in the death camps to genocidal ends. They pleaded, of course, that as far as they were concerned, they were simply technicians, putting together chemicals needed in wartime for fumigation. Some got away with that defense; others, not.

Those who fail to protest the free passage of tobacco smoke in the air come close to the Zyklon defendants in pleading ignorance.

COPYRIGHT 2007 UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE


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