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Editorial: What if tobacco companies were treated like other drug pushers?

Tobacco corporations are drug-pushers. Their profits depend on getting teens hooked on nicotine and keeping them addicted, always craving (and buying) more cigarettes. Other drug dealers who follow such a business model go to prison — but Big Tobacco is deemed a success, donating heavily to politicians, especially Republicans.

Deep inside, most Americans realize that the industry’s “get ’em hooked” strategy is evil. That’s why a Florida jury awarded $23.6 billion to the widow of an addicted man who smoked uncontrollably for two decades and died of lung cancer at the young age of 36. Of course, the spectacular verdict will be appealed and probably lowered, like most.

After the jury decision, CNN commentator Robin Koval asked:

“What other industry is permitted to sell a product that, if used as intended, kills half of its consumers? That’s not only a dysfunctional public health policy; it’s the worst business strategy ever. Imagine the immediate recalls if any other product killed half its customers.”

Koval said nicotine is “as addictive as heroin. It’s a sure-fire recipe for consumer loyalty to a deadly product, used by companies that have been determined by the federal courts to be liars and racketeers, guilty of putting profits ahead of public health.”

Big Tobacco spends nearly $9 billion per year on marketing, brazenly seeking to create more addicts. Between 1999 and 2011, nicotine content secretly was increased 15 percent to guarantee more helpless dependency. Around 70 percent of smokers want to quit, but the addiction grips them intensely.

Private memos of R.J. Reynolds once said that, to survive, the firm “must get our share of the youth market.” One memo spoke of needing “replacement smokers” to offset nearly a half-million Americans who die yearly from tobacco ailments.

Public health crusades have caused multitudes of Americans to break free from nicotine addiction. The latest National Geographic says 42 percent of U.S. adults smoked in 1965, but the rate has fallen to 18 percent.

“It’s killed 20 million [Americans] in 50 years,” the magazine added.

The peril still looms. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids says:

“Cigarette smoking is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the United States. It kills 443,000 Americans and costs $96 billion in health care bills each year. Ninety percent of adult smokers began at or before age 18, and another 3,500 U.S. kids try their first cigarette each day.”

We wish that nicotine-pushers could be treated just like heroin-pushers, cocaine-pushers and similar operators.

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