In honor of the Obama administration FINALLY passing strong anti-tobacco legislation (which had been stalled in Congress since 1994), I decided to revisit Jason Reitman's excellent, hilarious black comedy about the tobacco industry, Thank You For Smoking. Check out my review below.
Until the Obama administration passed its landmark anti-tobacco legislation, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, cigarettes were considered a uniquely magical product. They avoided the scrutiny of the Food and Drug Administration because they were deemed to be neither a food nor a drug. Unlike almost every consumable product in America, cigarettes were not required to list their ingredients on their packaging, despite the fact that most cigarettes contain such yummy carcinogenic compounds as ammonia, formaldehyde, DDT and arsenic.
Another magical thing about cigarettes is their truly awesome killing power. Cigarettes kill roughly 400,000 Americans a year (about 1,100 people a day) and snuff out between one third and one half of all smokers. As Chris Rock said, cigarettes are so deadly that they even kill people who don't smoke -- it's estimated that around 54,000 people (another estimate went as high as 62,000) die every year due to secondhand smoke. That's like you dying from a heart attack because your roommate ate too much fried food. What manner of sorcery is that?
Such a magical product could only come from a group with very special powers -- the tobacco industry. Probably the greatest trick ever pulled by Big Tobacco has been its ability to get what it wants from Congress despite the industry's long history of targeting children (90% of smokers start in their teens) and lying about the lethality of smoking. Even as the tobacco industry continued to go after kids with flavored cigarettes with names like "Kauai Kolada", "Twista Lime" and "Caribbean Chill", there were always plenty of congressmen from tobacco-growing states ready to protect them, claiming that anti-tobacco regulation would be devastating to the nation's tobacco farmers. Funny that you never hear anyone say that tough anti-drug laws will put pot and coca growers out of work.
So will the Nick Naylors of the world soon become extinct? Not by a long shot. Howard Wolinsky and Alan Blum, writing for the Huffington Post, highlighted some of the many troubling loopholes in the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. Once again, Big Tobacco has worked its dark magic and is being treated as if it's some sort of responsible partner that deserves a seat on the FDA's tobacco advisory board. The fact that Philip Morris, the biggest of Big Tobacco, supports the legislation should give everyone pause. The tobacco industry is not suicidal, and they've survived and thrived despite multiple "obstacles" in the past, the least of which being the revelation that cigarettes will kill you (and some of those nearby). And with scary warnings clearly labeled on every pack, can anyone rationally argue that they were unaware of the dangers of smoking? Even when Nick Naylor admits to Congress that cigarettes are deadly, he clearly isn't waving a white flag.
Still, we have to start somewhere. Hopefully the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act is just a first step and will create an important precedent that will be expanded upon in the future. I believe it's easier to build on something than it is to create it from scratch. It seems only reasonable that tobacco companies should help pay for the healthcare their customers will most surely require, a cost which is currently being paid by American taxpayers -- most of whom don't smoke. If this makes the price of cigarettes go up --the most effective way to prevent smoking -- so be it.
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