‘I’m no lawyer,’ writes Jerry Long in Monday’s Philadelphia Inquirer (thanks to Paul Lerman for this one, and many others), ‘but it seems that the only hope for the heads of R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson, and their fellow testifiers is somehow to prove that in their appearances before congressional committees, when they swore that ‘tobacco’ was not addictive, what they really meant was that ‘to backhoe, or any use of motorized excavating equipment’ was not addictive.’

Rob Meehan: ‘I think you may be missing something when you slam the Bush administration’s support of American business, namely, the tobacco industry. I completely agree with you that cigarettes are unhealthy, addictive, and frequently deadly. But I see the association between the Bush administration and tobacco as I see the administration’s support of any other legal business. And I can think of few people in recent years with closer ties to the cigarette makers than Al Gore. Here’s a man whose family business was growing tobacco! I think if Mr. Gore was in the White House, the policy could have been exactly the same.’

☞ I differ with you on two points. First, this isn’t just ‘any other legal business.’ It is, of course, legal – and should be – to sell tobacco to people of a certain age. Prohibition doesn’t work. But tobacco is the ONLY legal product – even including alcohol and chain saws and firecrackers – that when used EXACTLY AS INTENDED causes widespread disease and death. (Used with great care, as intended, chainsaws and even firecrackers are safe. And alcohol, its makers can credibly say, is intended to be used only in moderation and never before driving. But tobacco? Use it exactly as intended, and, no matter how responsible you are, disease and premature death frequently follow.) So tobacco is distinctly unlike any other legal business.

Second, I think you’re unfair to Al Gore. To begin with, it was not his choice to be born into a tobacco farming family. And at least until he was in college, a sense of the true health devastation tobacco causes was not widely understood. (The industry knew most of this, but covered it up.) Nor, by the way, are tobacco farmers the bad guys in this, in my view. Growing tobacco doesn’t encourage youngsters to become addicts; clever marketing and sponsorship of sporting events and handing out “loosies” to kids in malls and product placement in movies do. It’s one thing to grow up in a tobacco farming family, another to get an MBA and choose to work developing marketing plans designed to greatly expand smoking among women. (In Hong Kong, only 1% of the women smoked before our brave marketing lads landed to change the culture – now it’s closer to half.)

I don’t believe the Vice President was in any way soft on tobacco while he served with President Clinton in the White House, or that he would have softened the policies one whit had he taken office. Indeed, it is the ‘converted,’ in any cause, who often become its most ardent advocates. I think that watching his sister die of lung cancer made Al Gore just as strong a tobacco-industry antagonist as President Clinton.

Michael Joy: ‘I’m writing about the correlation between gay people and natural-disasters-sent-by-God-as-punishment. This may only be anecdotal evidence (as opposed to the statistics offered Tuesday), but I think it’s very apt. A Southern Baptist church in Florida burned to the ground after it was struck by lightning. However, in Columbus, Ohio, after the gay pride march last Saturday, where more than 20,000 gay people celebrated, there was a RAINBOW! Say what you will, but when God goes so far as to decorate the sky for us, I’m not worried about my sexual orientation causing calamities. Thanks, God!’

☞ Shortly after writing this, poor Michael was himself struck by lightning. Coincidence? You be the judge.


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