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

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An archived page from Pence’s campaign website, unearthed last year by BuzzFeed, contains an article titled “The Great American Smoke Out,” which states: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


The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.