Tobacco’s ills have no place in campaign

It’s been more than 30 years since the surgeon general confirmed the ill effects of smoking. Warning labels on cigarette packages have been in place since 1966, and countless medical studies have reached one foreboding conclusion: Tobacco can be a killer. Nevertheless, tobacco use, for some reason, is still a hot presidential campaign topic.
On a campaign swing through the tobacco-rich South last week, Republican front-runner Bob Dole said, “To some people, smoking is addictive; to others, they can take it or leave it. Most people don’t smoke at all. I hope children never start.” Dole also wants to prohibit public cigarette vending machines and try to keep kids from smoking, but believes the federal government should lay off the tobacco industry. We couldn’t agree more.
But in his weekly radio address, President Clinton lambasted Dole for what he apparently perceived as support of tobacco use among children. “I say to the tobacco industry, support our efforts to keep tobacco away from our kids, and I say to others in public life, stop fighting those efforts; you should be supporting them, too.” But we would remind Clinton that, in a Democratic society, there’s only so much that can be done. In this instance, free choice must come before legislative limits.
The proven addictive qualities of tobacco do not necessarily apply to every individual. Quitting “cold turkey” is easy for many smokers, while others need help. Dole’s comments are not an overt praise of the tobacco industry, as Clinton charged, but simply a statement of fact. Clinton implied that Dole and others should support his administration’s efforts to limit the spread of tobacco to children, but Dole’s Kentucky speech didn’t indicate he was leaning in the opposite direction. Clinton, however, jumped weakly at the chance to get in a shot at Dole, who’s been gaining steadily in the polls.
Granted, tobacco can be deadly, and tobacco-related health care costs remain high. But the people who produce tobacco are not entirely to blame. That responsibility lies mostly with smokers — for putting themselves in danger in the first place by ignoring repeated warnings. If the government is serious about helping people whose lives are threatened by tobacco, it should continue to make sure all the health information is available, and leave it in public’s hands.
In some ways, life would be better for us all if vices like tobacco use weren’t a part of mainstream America. Many lives have been touched by the negative effects of drug abuse — legal or otherwise. But unless Clinton is prepared to outlaw the production and distribution of tobacco, which could financially disable the tobacco-producing South, his complaints and criticisms are empty. The negative effects of tobacco are old news and should have no place in the presidential campaign — that is, unless you’re an incumbent desperate for a leg up.