10/12/2005 05:50 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Using Dollar Bills to Light Cigarettes

With the national debt in the trillions, the U.S. government is still letting money go up in smoke.

For decades now, we’ve known that those men in the white coats who were employed by tobacco companies to appear on TV and tell us that smoking soothed a scratchy throat were not telling us the whole truth. In the 1970s, epidemiology conclusively linked smoking in pregnant women to fetal harm. Since then, every medical organization, the U.S. Surgeon General, and even tobacco companies themselves have advised us to stay away from the smokes, and most strongly warned that women should not smoke during pregnancy.

The federal government, meanwhile, is still funding studies in which stressed monkeys are locked inside metal cages, impregnated, and injected with nicotine; have their babies taken away from them after birth; have lung function tests performed on them; and are then killed. And should you think this is the government foolishly trying to prove for the umpteenth time what we already know - in this case about tobacco and nicotine - it is not. It is to see if women can keep on smoking and have babies too!

Here’s just one example of taxpayers’ money at work: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has given Eliot Spindel of the Oregon Health & Science University some pretty hefty grants to study how taking a vitamin C supplement might block the mechanisms by which smoking harms fetal development. Of course, even if some of the effects of nicotine exposure can be mitigated by popping vitamin C down your throat between drags, there are many other toxic, carcinogenic, and teratogenic substances found in cigarettes and cigarette smoke that cause birth defects, premature birth, low birth weight, and other conditions that babies should be protected from. Research such as Spindel’s, whether or not it can be applied accurately to humans—given that not all primates had the same physiological requirements for vitamin C or even metabolize vitamin C in the same way—is wasteful as well as cruel, for it takes away money that could be used to help women stop smoking altogether.

The money is considerable. Spindel’s recent NIH grants include $1.3 million to test fetal nicotine exposure in rhesus monkeys, $1.8 million to study the mechanisms that nicotine uses to harm the fetuses of mutant mice, and his share of the $11 million annual support grant for the primate center. Meanwhile, only three states—Maine, Delaware, and Mississippi—fund tobacco prevention programs at the minimum levels recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia fund such programs at less than half the CDC minimum or provide no state funding at all.

The expense is not only borne by us taxpayers and the animals who pay with their lives in such disgusting tests, but by the women and children who are ill served by foolish funding priorities.