Notes from an emergency room doctor: The battle
against cigarette smoking is not won. And it may
be that it shall remain, forever, a stalemate.
Because bad habits are hard to break.
Those of you who smoke must be tired of being
harangued. You are under attack from all corners.
Doctors portend your doom. Federal, state, and
local governments have pushed you outdoors. And
now the FDA is lobbying hard to get control over
tobacco so that they can regulate it as a drug
and then require tobacco companies to further
limit the nicotine and tar in cigarettes. Perhaps
soon, even if you can get a hold of a "drag,"
it won't have that "kick" anymore.
Still, nearly 50 million Americans over the
age of 18 smoke. And more than 3000 teenagers
become regular smokers every single day. About
24 billion packs of cigarettes are sold annually.
In 1993, for each pack sold, approximately $2.06
was spent on medical care attributable to smoking.
Of the $2.06, almost half was paid by public sources.
These costs do not do not include the productivity
and value lost with the deaths of the more than
400,000 people who die annually from diseases
attributable to cigarette smoking.
But though there's an economic burden to tobacco
use, it turns out there's an economic boon as
well. Tobacco farmers are earning $1,000 per acre,
with annual crop sales totaling about $3 billion.
Annual tobacco product revenues amount to about
$51 billion. And taxes on tobacco total about
$12 billion, providing a major source of revenue
for federal, state, and some local governments.
U.S. tobacco exports also contribute $5 billion
dollars to the positive side of our trade balance.
Scientists are also busy searching for new uses
for tobacco, other than "lighting up."
North Carolina State University researchers
are studying a gelatin-like protein, called "Fraction-1,"
which is found in high concentration in the tobacco
plant. They hope to turn Fraction-1 into a non-allergenic
infant formula or a purer food for kidney patients
to help them avoid dialysis.
Because tobacco grows foreign genes so easily,
many scientists think it will be useful in bioengineered
medicine. Dr. Carole Cramer, a Virginia Tech plant
pathologist, is using tobacco plants to produce
human blood proteins that prevent clotting. Perhaps
soon, tobacco "anticoagulants" will
BioSource Genetics, a California Company dedicated
to pharmaceutical tobacco research, is testing
a tobacco antibiotic called "defensin."
Other uses for tobacco are also on the horizon.
A Dutch company is using tobacco as part of successful
feed for chickens. And DNA Plant Technology Corporation
has patented a variety of tobacco plants that
produce high levels of "sclareol," a
chemical which can be used in place of animal
musk in deodorants and perfumes.
Cigarette smoking still remains a vile and dangerous
habit. But regardless of the common sense of the
current attacks on cigarettes, I expect them to
be with us for a long, long time. Those pleasure
vices like cigarette smoking, and drug and alcohol
use cannot be legislated away. No modern day Volstead
Act or fervent admonishment from a surgeon general
will stop smoking. And the economic clout of the
tobacco industry will remain strong for years
But do not chagrin. Let's just hope that Joe
Camel and his ilk soon become cartoon anachronisms
and that modern scientists find a little silver
cloud in that deadly haze of tobacco smoke.