Tobacco politics could become the hottest issue in this year's election. After a 100-year history of disinformation, perjury, and fraud, America's most lethal industry is on the verge of being brought under the law. But the tobacco industry has bought the sheriff. Or more precisely, it has secured Congress and is sponsoring the presidential campaign of a longtime ally.
The morality of the issue is clear: Tobacco kills about 420,000 Americans a year. In order to replace these customers, and the 1.3 million who quit each year, tobacco has to find new consumers: kids. Seventy percent of smokers are hooked by the time they are 18, the age when they can legally buy cigarettes.
Throughout our package of articles, you'll keep coming upon stark facts about smoking. Although cumulatively they may desensitize you, we've taken that risk because, frankly, Americans are already numb. The tobacco industry has pacified the public as expertly as it has manipulated the nicotine kick in cigarettes.
Consider the Marlboro Man, Joe Camel, and Virginia Slims. The healthy, active freedom they promise hides an insidious, debilitating addiction. Using the same "big lie" technique, tobacco companies are sponsoring the Republican "get-the-government-off-our-backs" revolution that promises to return power to our communities and states. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Big Tobacco is strong-arming GOP governors and legislators to override local anti-smoking laws, tobacco excise taxes, and lawsuits brought by state attorneys general.
The tobacco companies want more--not less--centralized power. Faced with revolts throughout the country and defections from their own ranks, they're banking on corrupt politicians to bail them out.