War on tobacco rages on multiple fronts
It was a breath of fresh air, and appropriately so, in the middle of a news conference loaded with understandably dense scientific topics.
Dr. Paul Bunn, a Denver oncologist who specializes in lung cancer research, made it clear that he wanted to take the burden from lung cancer patients who torture themselves over their cigarette smoking.
Ninety percent of lung cancers are caused by tobacco smoke, he acknowledged, and nearly twice as many women die of lung cancer as die of breast cancer.
But the fault doesn't truly lie with those who have been long-term smokers, he said.
"The greed of the tobacco companies induced these cancers."
Dr. Bunn, the new president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (he made his statements at the group's recent annual meeting,) says the society has been an advocate of regulating tobacco sales for several years.
And considering that so many of its members are doctors who deal with the after-effects of tobacco consumption, it's no wonder.
Why, I asked him one early morning as he talked with me by cell phone, shouldn't smokers be responsible for their own actions?
After all, and this is always the claim, no one held a gun to their heads and forced them to puff away for 20 or 30 years.
"Nicotine is an addicting drug," he said. "The most addicting drug in the world. Other addicting drugs are illegal. This one is marketed and sold to teens."
If we give kids weapons, he was saying, and glue them to their hands, expect them to kill themselves. And maybe others through secondhand smoke?
He wants nicotine regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the way other substances are controlled.
But he, and presumably his organization, won't stop there. He also wants some international action taken, and after meeting with representatives of groups like the American Cancer Society while at his own annual meeting, he said, "We intend to be active on international policies."
He isn't happy with what he said was President Bush's retreat from an international treaty that contained policies that tobacco companies have opposed, such as advertising bans or tax increases on tobacco products.
In support of those policies, two international tobacco control advocates hit several hot spots in the United States about a month ago seeking to pump up U.S. leadership on the tobacco control treaty. (At a meeting in 2000 on the formation of the treaty, a corporate executive of Philip Morris admitted that smoking is "addictive and causes disease in smokers.")
That probably didn't mean much to Dr. Eva Kralikova, of the Czech Republic, one of the anti-smoking advocates who toured here recently.
According to news stories, she helped expose a Philip Morris report in the Czech Republic in which the company argued that early smoking deaths had "positive effects" because they reduce spending on pensions and other services for the elderly.
Despite such outrages, and the lack of federal or international regulation of tobacco, Florida can join states that have taken their own action.
Residents will get a chance to vote this November on a ballot measure to prohibit smoking in restaurants and workplaces.
Some would rather see the Florida Legislature act on this issue, but the point is: Clear the air, one way or the other.