There is the inevitable flesh of recognition. Yet another study on smoking. Yet another report, each more meticulously researched and analyzed than the last, proves what we already know: anyone who smokes is nuts.
This time the public service message is brought to you in the New England Journal of Medicine. After spending 13 years studying more than 25,000 people in California, the researchers tell us that the risk of dying from coronary disease is twice as great for smokers as for quitters. The risk of dying from any cause is one and one-half times greater for smokers than quitters.
In short, like the others, will be followed by a word from our favorite sponsor, those wonderful people down at the Tobacco Institute. The Tobacco Institute apparently employs legions of gnomes who spend their days devising baroque rebuttals to scientific research. Once they ascribed the rise in lung cancer to "enhanced detection capability."
But they also are followed by something else: a sudden increase in the nember of adults trying once-again-from-the-top to quit. Today there is at least one ex-smoker for every smoker (we even have a president who switched to jelly beans), and 90 percent of the smokers in this country want to quit.
Still, what I kept frightening is simply this: as more and more smokers try to stop, a whole new crop of kids start to smoke.
The Marlboro man of 1981 is actually a teen-age girl. The fastest-growing group of smokers in this country is young women under the age of 23. They are now even more likely to smoke than teen-age boys.
The hooking of the young is crucial to the tobacco business, because 75 percent of the smokers in the country were regulars by 21 and virtually all of them were smokers by 25.
Knowing this, I continue to wonder why we not only allow the hooking of our children, but actually subsidize it. The tobacco industry spends more than $1 billion dollars a year in tax-deductible money pushing its products in ad campaigns obviously aimed at the youth market. We spend more than $7 billion a year in smoking-related health costs. We spend more money, waste more time and talent looking for a cure to the diseases we could easily prevent.
But the people who favor boycotting sponsors of R-rated television don't put the screws on the tobacco merchants. The public that freaks out when kids smoke pot looks the other way when they smoke cigarettes. The same Sen. Jesse Helms who leads the fight against the "killing of babies" supports public subsidies of a substance that kills adults.
There was something symbolic in the flap this year over using Brooke Shields in a government anti-smoking ad. The government, more worried about teen-age sex than teen-age smoking, refused to harness her popularity even for the campaign against cigarettes.
The questions I ask her are old ones. Like the questions about gun control, we usually ask them when somebody else dies. But nothing happens.
Probably the best explanation of the whole tobacco scenario can be seen in former HEW secretary Joe Califano's new book "Governing America." In less than two dozen pages, he describes the power of the tobacco lobby, the political smoke screen that shrouds our health.
In a wonderful moment, he describes trying (mischievously, I suspect) to enlist the tobacco industry in a public-service campaign urging kids not to smoke.
He receives one letter from the head of the company that makes L&Ms and Chesterfields. Raymond J. Mulligan righteously refused because "the mothers and fathers of this nation, whether smokers or non-smokers, should continue to have freedonm of choice in the education and training of their children."
This is the cynical response of an industry that hides behind "American values" and "pro-family" rhetoric while it destroys the health of another generation.
It is hard to get exercised about what we already know. It's easy to become inmune to the bad news. Califano describes it simply: "Cigarettes have killed more Americans through heart disease, lung cancer and emphysema than all our wars and all our traffic accidents combined."
Anyone who ignores this is also nuts.