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Unchaining the Human Heart
— A Revolutionary Manifesto
A Book by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 8: Thank You For Smoking!

Thank You For Smoking is a 1994 novel by Christopher Buckley, son of National Review founder, novelist, and Firing Line host William F. Buckley, Jr.

It was made into the 2005 movie Thank You For Smoking by Jason Reitman, son of Ghost Busters director, Ivan Reitman.

But the phrase “Thank You For Smoking” didn’t originate with Jason Reitman’s screenplay or Christopher Buckley’s novel, nor did it originate with either of their famous fathers, though Christopher Buckley’s father was possibly a conduit.

“Thank You For Smoking!” was a campaign-style button made up possibly as early as the 1970’s by Samuel Edward Konkin III, publisher of New Libertarian Notes, author of The New Libertarian Manifesto, and an inveterate pipe smoker. It’s possible that he was wearing that button, or uttered the slogan as he habitually did when anyone else lit up, when he met the elder Buckley.

Now, “Thank you for smoking!” wasn’t the only button that Sam liked wearing. He also wore one made up by National Review writer, Timothy J. Wheeler, that read, “Every joyous calorie cries Yea! to life!”

So, honesty compels me to report that Sam was both still a pipe-smoker, and overweight, when in February 2004 he collapsed and died in his Beverly Hills apartment at age 56 of causes that will never be known, since there was no autopsy and since in the three decades I knew him Sam never once saw a medical doctor — not even when he was stabbed by a mugger.

I don’t know what caused Sam’s body to cease sustaining his life. I don’t know if his smoking or eating habits had anything to do with it. But I do know that Sam enjoyed smoking and eating and if you had told him with a seer’s certainty that one or the other would end his life prematurely he would have replied, “So what?”

Sam emailed a friend on his last birthday, “I never expected to live this long.”

Samuel Edward Konkin III was uncompromising when it came to living a lifestyle based on personal liberty. He was a Canadian who came to the United States on a student visa to attend graduate school … and overstayed his welcome by twenty-nine years. He easily could have satisfied any employment requirements for permanent residency — he counted dozens of American businessmen among his acquaintances, and a United States Congressman spoke at his memorial service — but complying with United States immigration law would have taken the fun out of it for him, and if Sam lived for anything, it was for fun.

Sam’s education was in science. He held a Master’s Degree in Theoretical Chemistry from New York University and completed everything needed to receive a doctorate … except for writing up his completed research into a dissertation and turning it in. So if you talked to Sam about the statistical correlations that suggested cigarette smoking increased the odds of contracting life-threatening diseases such as heart disease, various cancers, or emphysema, Sam would argue right back that correlation did not equal proof of causation; and that even if the data were correct all smoking did was increase the odds of contracting a disease. Sam had conducted a risk-benefit analysis for pipe-smoking, and he had decided that the pleasure he obtained from smoking a pipe outweighed any risks to his health.

Speaking for myself, I came to other conclusions. At age sixteen I started smoking cigarettes. I smoked cigarettes for several weeks until I was mugged in Boston Common by a man who, at knife point, robbed me of all the cash I had on me — less than three dollars — and a pack of cigarettes. I decided that if my cigarettes were worth mugging me for, it wasn’t worth it. I didn’t buy another pack.

Judging from Sam’s and my common experience of being mugged at knife-point, knife-wielding muggers represented a greater risk to our health than smoke.

I did smoke cigars and a pipe on occasion for many years — not very often because if I smoked two days in a row I got a sore throat. Nonetheless, I’ve never believed smoking outdoors — or the presence of second-hand smoke in a private restaurant, bar, hotel lobby, or office with an effective air-changing ventilation system — represented enough of threat to public health to justify smoking prohibition.

In the name of public health tobacco products are forbidden to be sold to anyone under 18, cigarettes are heavily taxed — with money from these taxes being used to produce and proliferate government anti-smoking propaganda — and despite decades of warnings to smokers about the health risks associated with cigarettes, the tobacco companies were held financially liable for their products causing smokers’ sickness and death. Authority has been given to the FDA to regulate cigarettes, on the grounds that cigarettes are a delivery system for the drug “nicotine.” Hypocritically, the government encourages smokers to ingest nicotine delivered by skin patches and chewing gum as a means of quitting smoking, which clearly demonstrates that it’s not nicotine the cigarette prohibitionists give a damn about — it’s smoking. If a nicotine-free cigarette were marketed, the FDA would still have legal authority to control it.

In the movie Thank You For Smoking a tobacco spokesman testifies before a Congressional committee that if his son chose to smoke when he turned eighteen, he’d buy him his first pack. But in a deleted alternate ending on the DVD, this same spokesman is shown knocking a cigarette out of his son’s mouth after the hearing. This scene was intended to denote if not the spokesman’s hypocrisy, at least his sense of guilt.

I’ve never understood why smokers allow themselves to be treated as second-class citizens. It’s clear that Sam’s “Thank You For Smoking!” buttons never ignited a national smokers’ rights movement. There’s never been a mass rally on the Washington Mall by cigarette smokers in defense of their right to smoke. There has never been a mass-membership organization for cigarette rights, as the four-million-member NRA is for gun owners’ rights. Of course there isn’t a constitutional amendment that reads, “A well-smoked cigarette, being necessary after sexual Congress, the right of the people to keep and smoke Tobacco, shall not be infringed.” The “pro Smoking campaign” Facebook Group has 24 members.

Let me come out solidly in favor of good health. I know it’s a controversial position to take these days, when the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement is hoping the human race would just die off, but really, I think health is preferable to sickness.

But I think this would also be a good moment to quote the opening of my 2002 novel, Escape from Heaven:

There’s an old saying that everybody wants to go to Heaven but nobody wants to die.

That’s how it was for me, anyway.

I drove a Mercedes because I was told it was the safest car in a crash. And it was a smart choice. I died of something else.

I owned a handgun so I wouldn’t die at the hands of a burglar. I was right about that, too. The burglar who broke into my bedroom ran like hell when he saw the .45 Government Model I was pointing at him … and I died of something else.

I quit smoking, did my best to keep my weight down and eat a low cholesterol diet, and practiced safe sex, because I didn’t want to die of cancer, heart disease, emphysema or AIDS, and it paid off: I died of something else.

You see, that’s the part they forget to mention. No matter what nasty ways of dying you avoid, there’s always another one waiting for you. If one thing doesn’t get you, another thing will. Everybody could have saved a lot of thought that went into bumper stickers and public service messages. All they would have had to say is, “Don’t do that. Die of something else.”

In a Cold War commencement address at American University in Washington on June 10, 1963, President John F. Kennedy said, “So, let us not be blind to our differences — but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.” Five months later, JFK showed us how mortal he was, and despite breathing the same air it wasn’t a cigarette that killed him on November 22, 1963.

I’ve seen a lot of public service announcements warning kids not to take up smoking. I’ve never seen a single public service announcement warning kids not to let their parents drive them to school or not to commit murder — auto accidents and homicide being top causes for teenage deaths. Of the top twenty causes of teen deaths, cigarettes aren’t even on the list. That’s because smoking cigarettes is of little danger to teenagers. The serious health risks take years and years to materialize. The heavily tax-subsidized ad campaigns against teenage smoking make as little sense as spending millions of bucks each year to warn teenage boys about the dangers of prostate cancer.

If you smoke heavily enough for long enough, cigarette smoking can represent a significant threat to your health.

But cigarettes are also calming and many smokers will tell you it helps them to think. And I can tell you as a non-smoker that — contrary to propaganda that kissing a smoker is like kissing an ashtray — kissing a smoker can be quite pleasant.

Anti-smoking propagandists always make fun of the old cigarette commercials showing doctors recommending cigarettes. But guess what? Cigarette smoking might actually have some health benefits after all.

Research shows that nicotine may delay the onset of both Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease. I don’t see why that little fact shouldn’t be on The O’Reilly Factor and Countdown with Keith Olbermann alongside the debates on stem cell research.

Reports suggest that nicotine may also improve symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (would passing out cigarettes to sixth graders improve their reading scores?) and Tourettes syndrome. Remember: cigarette smoking is of relatively little health risk to young people — not when a peanut butter sandwich is considered a lethal weapon in many school cafeterias. Oh, yeah. We’re supposed to figure in the risk of long-term nicotine addiction. As if addiction doesn’t mean any habitual behavior disapproved of by the power-freak using the term. As if “long-term” to Congress is further than the next election, less than two years away.

As if in the age of the Singularity anyone can make a scientific prediction about what the medical challenges will be forty years from now.

Nicotine enhances the release of neurotransmitters, enhancing a smoker’s ability to focus.

And I believe there’s an interesting correlation to be discovered between the overall reduction in rates of smoking and the overall increases in rates of obesity. But what’s the chance of discovering politically incorrect facts like that once the government has a complete monopoly on funding for health-care research?

Health issues aside, for a lot of people smoking is pleasurable. The risk-to-benefit analysis of smoking versus health needs to take that into account.

Pleasure is important.

Pleasure enhances life.

Pleasure is good.

But pleasure is not even on the map for the legions of aggressive health Nazis obsessed with controlling you.

The adverse risks that come with the pleasures of smoking is your right to calculate free of their interference and burdens … and I think any sort of personal pleasure is worth fighting for.

It’s time for smokers to stop acting like whipped dogs and start standing up for themselves as a consumer’s lobby. They’ve left the lobbying job to their suppliers — the tobacco growers and cigarette manufacturers — for too long. That’s spineless. At the very least allowing someone else to tell you you’re too stupid to calculate your own pleasures versus health risks shows no self-esteem.

If you let them get away with taking away your tobacco, the next thing you know they’ll want to take away is your alcoholic beverages and firearms.

Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. There’s a federal bureau specifically to control those three things. And alcohol used to be prohibited completely.

Now that can’t be a coincidence.

I absolutely support the right of non-smokers to have clean air to breathe. Before smoking inside was made illegal, you used to be able to find smoke-free air by walking outside.

Not anymore.

In the next chapter, let’s talk in general about the risks we take to make life worth living.

#

Next in Unchaining the Human Heart — A Revolutionary Manifesto is Chapter IX: Risky Business

Unchaining the Human Heart — A Revolutionary Manifesto is
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.


My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available for sale or rental on Amazon.com Video On Demand. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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