Saturday, June 13, 2009


Smoking is a tough habit to give up.

I don't need anyone to tell me that. I know from personal experience. I stopped smoking more than two years ago. But as I have told my friends frequently, I don't consider myself an "ex–smoker." I consider myself a "recovering" smoker, not unlike a recovering alcoholic. The chances that I'll "fall off the wagon" seem to be more remote with each passing day, but I feel that, if I continue to acknowledge the possibility of backsliding, I'll be better equipped to avoid it.

It's my personal strategy.

I have many friends who still smoke. And I've assured them that, whatever my personal opinions may be, I will never tell them what they should or should not do. I believe, as I always have, that adults should be allowed to make their own decisions.

Nevertheless, I'm glad Congress overwhelmingly approved legislation that gives the Food and Drug Administration greater authority over the tobacco industry, including the ability to regulate the ingredients in tobacco products and to control advertising.

That's a good step — but it's long overdue. It's been nearly half a century since the government began taking baby steps toward regulation of tobacco products by printing the somewhat innocuous warnings on cigarette packages that smoking "may be hazardous to your health."

Subsequent studies only reinforced the early conclusions about the risks posed by tobacco consumption — but, during the interim, cigarette manufacturers were proactive at protecting their turf and seeking to expand it. It was a few years after the surgeon general's initial warning before TV banned cigarette advertising. And it took a quarter of a century for the government to ban smoking on airplane flights. During that time, we know that tobacco companies worked to manipulate the nicotine content of their products to ensure that consumers would become addicted faster — and would face greater difficulty "kicking the habit."

The legislation that sailed through Congress will, at long last, bring some major changes to the tobacco industry. Hopefully, with this new legislation — soon to be signed into law by a president who has admitted to his own struggle with the smoking habit — fewer young people will be lured into tobacco use.

And, in a nation that finally seems to be serious about health care, that seems to be the surest way to eliminate one of the greatest threats to public health.

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