Posts Tagged ‘tobacco’

Concussions, Cigarettes, and Liability: The Cover-Up is Worse than the “Crime”

July 27th, 2011 2 comments

In my latest piece for Slate, I look closely at the complaint recently filed by a group (75!!) of former NFL players against the league and the manufacturers of the helmets the players wore.

The comparison to tobacco is this: the cover-up (danger of long-term consequences of even mild concussions for the NFL, the health risks and addictive nature of tobacco for the cigarette companies) is usually worse than the crime. Everyone knows this, and at least pays lip service to it, but it continues as a catch phrase because it still happens…again and again.

They’ve moved the piece up near the top (in the band of stories just below the headline group), which is a first for me. It would help if you’d wander over there and “like” (or even better, comment) on the piece.

A Smoke-Free World?

September 25th, 2009 1 comment

I’ve just learned that, beginning in mid-2010, my school will join many others in establishing a completely smoke-free campus. No tobacco anywhere, even in your own car. far we’ve come. I’d be hard-pressed to think of another common human activity whose social meaning has changed as radically over the past couple of generations. When I was working at a big ol’ NY law firm in the mid-80’s, the smokers among the junior associates were accommodated by getting their own office — three of them packed into a box barely large enough for two, with smoke billowing from the room at every hour of the day and night. But this accommodation was already a major improvement from the pervasiveness of smoking just a short time earlier: Watch any episode of Mad Men from the mid-1960’s, and you’ll see my point.

At Widener, as at many other schools and workplaces, smoking has been driven out by degrees, starting about 20  years ago: First, from common indoor areas; then out of private offices; then from general permissibility outside to restricted areas; and finally to a complete ban. Of course, state legislatures and local city authorities have been proceeding along the same course, with fewer and fewer places available for the smoker to get that fix. Indeed,  when I was in NY a couple of weekends ago for a conference, I was astounded and put off when I was given a smoking room — without notice or choice, at that. “Smoking room? What year is this?” I’d  assumed that such rooms no longer existed. They likely won’t for  much longer.

But why is this happening? The evidence on the harms caused by second-hand (or “environmental”) smoke is fairly strong, but that doesn’t explain the more extreme forms of the ban. It’s very unlikely that folks walking past a few people smoking outside are going to suffer any adverse health consequences. And there’s no reason, along those lines, for prohibiting people from smoking in their own cars.

So what, if anything, justifies the campus-wide ban on smoking and similar measures by state and private actors? Opponents argue, with some justification, that these blanket approaches are nanny state (or analogous private) intrusions on their personal autonomy and right to decide what to do with their own bodies. What’s next, stopping us from eating Snickers on campus?

I have some sympathy with this view (more so when the state is involved), but there’s another aspect to the public health, population perspective that isn’t as often considered: The harder it is to find places to smoke, the likelier it is that people will quit. Given the enormous financial and social cost of smoking, there’s justification for initiatives that discourage people from lighting up.

But it’s crucial, in such cases, to respect those that you’re about to coerce, as by offering them smoking-cessation programs and support. No habit, including heroin addiction, is harder to break. So by changing the social environment, we provide another tool for the construction of what we hope will one day become a smoke-free world. This would be one of the best health care reforms achievable, and the cost savings alone would make the rest of the debate much easier.