PRESIDENT REAGAN has been trying to tell the schoolchildren of America, through cuts in their lunch program, that they are eating too much.
The Senate has just informed us, through a positive vote on the tobacco subsidies, that smoking is good for you.
Now wouldn't you think that some of Ronald Reagan's friends in the business community would have put those two declarations together and come up with a scheme that would have untold benefits on the federal budget for now and some time to come?
Why don't the cigarette manufacturers simply put a little package of cigarettes on the lunch tray -- as in the old days they did on airlines? Everyone outside of the tobacco states knows that cigarette smoking blunts the appetite.
Naturally, the gift would be tax-deductible like the contributions to the china fund for the White House. Who could deny, when you study it a bit, that the nicotine barons are helping the country?
Start with the psychic benefits for the tots. They will be spared the searing pain of being exposed as low-income children, who, before they can proceed to the cafeteria, are given tickets of different color from that of their richer classmates. In the great democracy of the weed, all will be equal.
Those old enough to be into guilt can puff with clear consciences. They are not really accepting a handout, since the government is subsidizing the tobacco industry and their parents are helping foot the bill, that is, if they can afford to pay taxes.
This perfectly sensible solution will, of course, meet with furious opposition. Cigarette smoking, has, through the exertions of people who do not respect the sovereignty of the individual and who constantly tamper with the marketplace, acquired a bad name.
The government, under less enlightened heads, instituted an antismoking campaign which cost $13 million. People spend fortunes and ruin whole evenings looking at slides of lung cancer in efforts to kick the habit. It has gotten so that if a smoker offers a cigarette to someone else, he is looked at as if proferring an adder. The deleterious effects on little children will be screamed from the house-tops.
We must look to the Congressional Record of Sept. 17 for a different view, specifically to the prose poem spoken on the floor by Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, a Democrat from South Carolina, a state that derives much of its income from growing tobacco. Here is what he said about one habitual smoker.
"Eubie Blake, the noted and very gifted performer, the other day at 96 years of age, fell out of bed and broke his hip, and they lifted him back up and put him in bed, and he reached for and lit up a cigarette and puffed away.He has been smoking since 8 years of age. I hope I last to 96 like old Eubie so I can fall out of bed and break my hip and light up another one."
Surely such a tribute to a terrific piano player who is also black should reassure anxious parents who wonder how they will nourish their children.
Others, inevitably, will whine about the fire hazards. Little uncoordinated fingers might ignite paper napkins. That's easily answered. Eliminate the napkins. The budget cutters who told us that children don't eat vegetables anyway will tell us they don't appreciate napkins, either.
There will also be a great deal of blather about cigarettes stunting the growth. So? Is there anything so wrong about that? Look at the Japanese: They're shorter than we are, and they have brought us to our knees industrially. The next generation of Americans could increase productivity and can take up less room in our crowded cities.
And, we might add, do its part in helping future presidents avoid the agony Reagan has been going through in cutting the defense budget. Smaller people could fit into those tanks which the Pentagon absent-mindedly designed for 5 foot 4 and under. Those turkeys could be taken out of mothballs and reactivated, saving heaven knows how many billions for the taxpayers of tomorrow.
We come now to a potentially graver matter. Members of the medical profession warn us, every chance they get, that smoking shortens lives. But looked at patriotically, is that such a bad thing? Some of today's children will undoubtedly grow up to be welfare clients. It is bad for them and it is bad for the budget. Think of the savings if they cough themselves out of existence at an earlier date.
And let's face it, fewer of them could last long enough to get on the Social Security rolls.
Ronald Reagan, through various proposals, has been trying to tell Americans that they are living too long. If only they would have the decency to pack it in sooner, he would not have had even to think about cutting defense.
As Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.), who led the fight against tobacco subsidies, said at the end of the debate, if he took seriously what he had heard from tobacco's friends, he would "beg forgiveness for even having thought of such a horrible idea" as eliminating the industry from the federal welfare rolls.
Obviously, tobacco has done much for this nation. And in an era when children are greedy and old people are living too long, it can do more. All we need is a little of that entrepreneurial system which Ronald Reagan is trying to reignite in the land.