Monday, March 19, 2007

Smoking is a Sign of Weakness, Suggests Anti-Smoking Group

As quoted in a recent newspaper article, the national anti-smoking group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) has suggested that smoking is a sign of weakness and lack of will and determination, not befitting of a president. ASH executive director John Banzhaf is quoted in the St. Petersburg Times in response to the presidential campaign of Senator Barack Obama - a smoker who is attempting to quit smoking: "For many people, smoking is seen as a sign of weakness and lack of willpower. A presidential candidate would not want to be seen as lacking strong will or lacking determination."

The Rest of the Story

Funny that. Coming from a group that helped spearhead many of the lawsuits by smokers against the tobacco companies. A key element of these cases is that smoking is an addiction, and that quitting is not as simple as just having willpower. In fact, the tobacco company defense in these cases has been based on convincing juries that smoking is a sign of weakness and lack of willpower. It's a good thing ASH didn't make this same statement prior to, and during the bulk of the tobacco cases. They would have destroyed their own argument.

I find it unfortunate that a national anti-smoking group is helping to reinforce the image of the smoker as a weak creature who lacks willpower and determination. And that such a group is suggesting that smoking is inappropriate for a presidential candidate because it displays a lack of willpower and determination that could affect the candidate's qualifications to serve as president.

The suggestion that smokers simply lack willpower and determination shows a profound lack of understanding of the concept of addiction. And it contributes to obscuring the public's appreciation of the addictive nature of smoking.

Interestingly, you don't hear ASH talking about how being fat represents a lack of willpower and determination. Or how having type 2 diabetes represents a lack of willpower and determination (since it can be controlled almost completely by weight loss). Or how having mild hypertension represents a lack of willpower and determination (as it can almost always be controlled completely by dietary changes). Or how drinking coffee daily is a sign of weakness.

I haven't heard any suggestion recently about how a presidential candidate should quit drinking coffee before running so as not to be perceived as being weak and therefore not an effective potential leader.

Frankly, I don't see how the (lawful) personal health behavior of a presidential candidate has any relevance to his or her qualifications for the office of president. But more importantly, to suggest that smoking is a sign of weakness sounds like a cheap jab, possibly motivated by hatred of smokers. It is also a sign of class discrimination, since we don't talk the same way about poor health behaviors in which sub-populations of higher education and income status tend to engage.

Smoking is not a sign of weakness, any more than being fat or sitting around watching four straight days of basketball on television (yes, I'm guilty) are signs of weakness.

Let's get our message straight, shan't we? Is smoking a supreme form of weakness and lack of willpower and determination, or is it one of life's addictions? At this point, I hardly care which side ASH takes. But don't suggest one thing to the public (it's a sign of weakness and lack of willpower and determination) and then expect juries throughout the country to force tobacco companies to pay billions of dollars to smokers because they were addicted and could not quit smoking even after they became aware of its adverse health consequences. Isn't it that they were just weak?

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