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The Comparative Severity of Tobacco, Alcohol, and Cocaine

November 3, 1989



Regarding the opinion-page column ``Blowing Smoke,'' Oct. 4: I would like to compare the acceptance and rejection of three severe problems in the United States - tobacco, alcohol, and cocaine. Tobacco is the most available and obtainable by anyone of any age. Alcohol has minimum-age restrictions and sales restrictions, but it is legal in every state. And cocaine is illegal in all jurisdictions for both adult and child. Many people argue that cocaine is wrong because it is illegal. But morality should be more influential than legality.

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Cocaine receives the most attention because of the extreme cost. The US spends billions on prevention, interdiction, and incarceration because this drug is illegal. Yet, death attributed to cocaine is comparatively rare. Alcohol accounts for as many as 100,000 deaths each year. Alcohol has caused more violence than any other drug. And tobacco kills 1,000 people in the US every day.

Former Surgeon Gen. C. Everett Koop recently stated to Congress that nicotine is an addiction more powerful than cocaine. This column notes that in the US, ``80 percent of all new smokers are under the age of 19; 50 percent are 13 or younger.'' Shouldn't furnishing cigarettes to a minor be more serious than a consenting adult using cocaine in the privacy of his own home?

No one seems to mind that some very influential people are alcoholics. No one seems to care that a 12-year-old smokes cigarettes on the way to school. It appears all right for state and federal governments to subsidize tobacco growers. It seems to be acceptable for US tobacco companies to advertise directly to adolescents in Japan. No one seems to mind that the US contributes to the health problems of foreign countries all in the name of fair trade. How can the range of our legal and moral standards be so varied? Brent M. Cobb, Ionia, Mich.

This column shows the unprincipled way in which the cigarette companies defend and promote the potential addiction of smoking. While the US cries ``killer'' at the drug lords of Latin America, it cannot turn its back on its own industry, that, for profit, presses the world's very young and poor to begin the dangerous, costly, and needless habit of smoking. Phyllis D. Szerejko, Sandwich, Mass.

One cost of importing The opinion-page column ``Blame US Productivity, Not Overseas Labor,'' Oct. 3, doesn't recognize an important contributing element to the declining economy, rising unemployment, and foreign debt. Rather than deal with product liability, labor disputes, and trade-union contracts, many chief executive officers (CEOs) opt to pay more money and import an item over having it manufactured in the US.

As sales decline and US products become more costly to produce, CEOs that opt to import are actually helping to create the situation that they say causes them to go abroad. It is easy to forget about the government costs of supporting the unemployed and simply import. Yale J. Berry, Boston, Mass.