Mike Pence, Trump’s Reported VP Pick, Said “Smoking Doesn’t Kill”

The Indiana governor felt big government was more dangerous than cigarettes.

Stacy Revere/ZUMA

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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, whom Donald Trump is reportedly leaning toward picking as his running mate, once held a pretty unusual view on cigarettes: that “smoking doesn’t kill.”

At several points around the turn of the millennium, Congress debated whether to allow the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products. Pence, who was elected to Congress in 2000, was firmly against it, arguing that smoking was not as dangerous as the “hysteria from the political class and the media” would have you believe. In fact, tobacco products kill up to half of users, according to the World Health Organization.

An archived page from Pence’s campaign website, unearthed last year by BuzzFeed, contains an article titled “The Great American Smoke Out,” which states:

Time for a quick reality check. Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill. In fact, 2 out of every three smokers does not die from a smoking related illness and 9 out of ten smokers do not contract lung cancer.  

The article went on to admit that smoking is bad for you (“news flash: smoking is not good for you. If you are reading this article through the blue haze of cigarette smoke you should quit”), but not as bad for you as big government. “The relevant question is, what is more harmful to the nation, second hand smoke or back handed big government disguised in do-gooder healthcare rhetoric.” 

The danger, Pence warned, was that if government grew big enough to protect Americans against smoking, what was next? Fatty foods? SUVs? “Those of you who find the tobacco deal acceptable should be warned as you sit, reading this magazine, sipping a cup of hot coffee with a hamburger on your mind for lunch,” the article says. “A government big enough to go after smokers is big enough to go after you.”

In many respects, Pence’s conservative rallying cry against tobacco regulation is similar to more recent conservative hobby horses: campaigns against energy-efficient lightbulbs and against attempts by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to ban some vendors from selling large sodas. But on the question of tobacco, Pence ultimately came down on the losing side. In 2009, under a Democratic Congress and president, Congress finally passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which allowed the FDA to regulate tobacco products. Pence voted against it.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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