Smoking… A question of personal freedom and social cost?

I will be 76 years old in October of this year, so you can see that I’ve been around for a while. I was born here in Muskegon, Michigan back when we were still living in the Great Depression back in 1938. At that time, most adults smoked cigarettes. My parents both smoked. My mother quit in the last few years of her life and died at the age of 87. My father smoked his entire life and died at the age of 82. You will note that both exceeded the average age at the time of death for Americans today, let alone what it was 23 years ago when my mother died. My father likely did die from smoking as he had a heart attack which had caused his death a few years earlier. My mother died of a disease that also did in her own mother back in the 1960’s, a disease (Alzheimer’s) which has no known relationship to smoking. I mention these facts to illustrate that the reality is actually quite different from the myths today told about smoking. Yes, people did die from the effects of smoking. It does damage your lungs, and in sufficient time, may kill you.  I had an uncle who died from smoking, although it is just as likely that it was exposure to lung damaging industrial smoke and vapors from working in a foundry that eventually killed him. We forget that in the past, workers were exposed to a number of hazards that are now prohibited by law. But for those who lived during the Great Depression, men did in fact take jobs that given time, could cripple or even eventually kill them decades later.

Today obesity is a major social problem. Oddly enough, it didn’t become a problem until relatively recently. Today there is a great deal of concern over the medical and social costs of obesity. It is really a late 20th, early 21st Century problem. It didn’t exist until about the time of the Reagan administration, which is when the anti-smoking campaigns got going. It is definitely a “growing problem” today, one that is of considerable concern. The obese not only die earlier, but they also often have expensive medical problems such as diabetes, which when you become “insulin dependent”, can also be extremely costly.*

* I used the cost of insulin as an example of high medical costs in my previous post.

One difference between the costs of smoking and obesity is that while smokers usually experience their problems towards the end of their lives, the obese experience problems sometimes as soon as they reach adulthood. Once insulin dependent, they are locked into expensive costs of medication, frequent lab tests and doctor visits. For those who are curious, I suggest a visit to “GoodRx”, which you will have to use Google to access until you can bookmark the url. You will see that the cost of a vial of insulin will cost from a low of about a hundred dollars to three times that. Granted, medical insurance will help, but the co-pay (all insulins are brand name, there is no generic) will be high. There is also the cost of the meter, test strips, needles, along with quarterly visits to the hospital or doctor’s office lab along with the cost of office visits to the doctor. Overall, the costs can easily run into the thousands of dollars a year. Which, especially for someone starting out in life, or paying off student loans, can be a heavy burden to carry. Plus, as a rule, diabetics will also suffer from high blood pressure and high cholesterol, adding to the costs of their medications. So the problem of obesity and type two diabetes (which is the type of diabetes the obese end up with) run up our health care costs considerably. In fact, the health care costs of obesity and diabetes are likely greater than those caused by smoking!  In effect we decided to eliminate one medical problem that usually affected those later in life and replaced it with one that now is effecting people much younger at higher lifetime costs! Not exactly the most intelligent thing we could have done, I’d say.

One of the driving forces behind today’s obesity is that we have more carbohydrate dense foods today than we had in the past. More access to fast food, more candy, sweets, etc.  A smoker has a lower appetite, can skip meals easier, diet much easier if needed (voice of experience) than can the non-smoker. In effect, cigarettes to some degree replace food. Despite government efforts, the media, Americans are becoming more obese. One of the major problems here is that those who sell food have much greater economic power than the tobacco companies ever had. Plus, the obese diabetic is a “money tree” to the medical profession, to the drug companies. So we have entire industries, the medical profession who profit off obesity. Plus all the “diet” companies, who are also highly profitable.  This is likely why resolving this problem is likely for all practical purposes to be impossible…

We have exchanged one “vice” for another. And food addiction is likely even harder to control than smoking. No doubt a Libertarian society could go back to smoking, which would save considerable amounts of money, but politically, it is likely to be “difficult”. Oddly enough, smoking did prevent auto most immune diseases according to the book on ulcerative colitis that I read recently. Ulcerative colitis is an auto immune disease that only non-smokers can get according to the gastroenterologist who wrote the book. And of course obesity wasn’t a major problem back when most adults smoked. So perhaps we aren’t as “smart” as we thought after all…

Jerome Bigge, writing as “muskegonlibertarian.wordpress.com”

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About muskegonlibertarian

77 year old retired owner of a security guard agency. Member of the Libertarian Party.
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