There's an old Huron Indian myth that says in ancient times, when the land was barren and the people were starving, the Great Spirit sent forth a woman to save humanity. As she traveled over the world, everywhere her right hand touched the soil, there grew potatoes. And everywhere her left hand touched the soil, there grew corn. And when the world was rich and fertile, she sat down and rested. When she arose, there grew tobacco.
In the early 17th century, however, King James I had a different take on tobacco use. ¡°Smoking,¡± said the King, ¡°is a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black, stinking fume thereof, nearest resembles the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless.¡±
Objective consideration of today's health statistics would incline one to believe tobacco use is more hell spawn than a gift from heaven. With more than 400,000 tobacco-related deaths every year, no habit has had a greater impact on the nation's health. The list of disorders induced or worsened by tobacco products seems almost endless: cancers of the lungs, mouth, vocal chords, and other organs; chronic lung disease; asthma; ulcers; clogging of the arteries, heart attacks, strokes, amputations, etc. Moreover, passive smoke poses a serious health risk to infants and young children, producing increased rates of bronchitis, pneumonia, ear infections, asthma, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Not only that, but tobacco is also considered a ¡°gateway drug¡± for teenagers. According to a former White House drug czar, teens who smoke are twice as likely to use alcohol, ten times as likely to use marijuana, and fourteen times as likely to use cocaine and heroin than kids who don't smoke. Researcher John Baucom discovered that 81 percent of teenagers who are addicted to smoking try marijuana. Of youth who don't take up smoking, only 21 percent will ever experiment even once with the drug.
Such evidence of the inherent danger that comes with smoking makes tobacco use a matter of significant moral import. Christian doctrine has long maintained one should refrain from any practice that does demonstrable harm to the body. The Scriptures teach the body ought to be treated as the temple of God. If one defiles the body, God's temple, then that person will be destroyed (I Cor. 3:16-17). Christians should not only avoid smoking themselves, but they also need to be in the vanguard of helping others shun or break the habit.
Last July, the U.S. Senate voted 78-15 to approve legislation that would include FDA (Food and Drug Administration) authority over tobacco products. The legislation, which was approved as an amendment to a tax bill known as the Foreign Sales Corporation, or FSC bill, also includes a tobacco grower buyout that would be paid for by the tobacco companies. In contrast, the House approved a version of the FSC bill that rejects FDA authority over tobacco products and provides for a tobacco growers buyout paid for by taxpayers. The legislation is currently in a conference committee for negotiation on a final bill.
The Senate's version of the FSC bill was a historic vote for tobacco control and public health -- it was the first time either chamber of the U.S. Congress has ever voted to approve FDA tobacco regulation.
FDA oversight of the tobacco companies is essential to reducing the toll of tobacco. The tobacco companies like to portray themselves as any other American business, but evidence uncovered in the tobacco litigation of the 1990s clearly demonstrates tobacco companies have deliberately deceived the public into believing their products were safe and non-addictive. They manipulated the nicotine content of their products to better addict consumers, and targeted children with their advertising. What is more, since the 1998 state tobacco settlement, they haven't stopped their shenanigans. They've introduced tobacco products with bogus claims of ¡°reduced risk,¡± and continued aggressive marketing at reaching kids in the magazines they read and at the convenience stores where they hang out. They've even introduced cigarettes that have candy and fruit flavors, with packaging that blatantly appeals to kids. This nonsense needs to stop!!!
Granting the FDA effective, meaningful authority over the tobacco companies would prevent tobacco marketing to children and subject tobacco products to the same consumer protections applied to other goods. It's ironic that the FDA is required to ensure the safety of foodstuff as seemingly benign as Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, but cigarettes, which contain ammonia, formaldehyde and arsenic, remain unregulated.
It should also be noted the Senate version of the FSC bill is a compassionate response to tobacco farmers, their families and communities. It would eliminate the current tobacco program and all government price supports, but it would also limit where tobacco can be grown to traditional tobacco-growing areas, place some constraints on the total amount of tobacco farmed in the United States, and provide for tobacco to be grown in new locations only when currently active tobacco farmers are unwilling or unable to supply existing demand. Most importantly, the Senate bill would provide economic development assistance to certain impacted tobacco-growing areas and help tobacco growers diversify to other crops or otherwise reduce their reliance on tobacco farming.
None of the previously mentioned provisions that aid tobacco farmers are in the House version of the FSC bill. The Senate version, however, would effectively protect and provide for the interest of tobacco growers while keeping the FDA off the family farm.
Of course, some will argue giving the FDA authority over tobacco sales would give the government too much control. Even some Christians argue in this fashion, saying we need less government not more. Granted, there are ways the government is too invasive in people's lives. But it needs to be remembered that the God-ordained purpose of government, as outlined in Romans 13:1-5, is to protect the welfare of the citizenry and to suppress evil. Too many people have either been maimed for life or buried because they became addicted to tobacco products. The federal government can and should do something about this problem.
During the 1600s, the church admonished people to avoid the fascinations of ¡°Satan's smoke¡± or suffer eternal damnation. That may sound a bit over the top today. Tobacco use in its own right doesn't automatically doom a person to hell. But if someone is lying on a hospital bed wheezing for breath, dying from cancer or some other tobacco-related illness, it's hard to view the situation as anything but a life flitted away in cigarette ashes. Tobacco products are not likely to ever be banned, but Christians everywhere still ought to support and encourage efforts that diminish the scope of tobacco's harmful affects. Getting in behind the U.S. Senate's version of the FSC bill is certainly one important way to protect the pubic from that ¡°stinking fume,¡± which indeed is most like ¡°the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless."