Now, I don't want to get off on a rant here, but tobacco is so entwined with the history of this country, the only reason the Statue of Liberty is not holding up a lit cigarette is that her torch provides a better backdrop for final showdowns in shitty action movies.

Now, if you ask most smokers whether or not they want to smoke they'd probably tell you "no," they hate it. But nicotine couldn't be tougher to kick if Lucy Van Pelt from "Peanuts" was holding it with her fingertip.

Los Angelenos have been some of the most outspoken advocates against smokers exposing us to their second-hand smoke. Which is ironic, considering that compared to L.A. air, second-hand smoke is like aromatherapy. I'm so paranoid about getting sick I'm even worried about third-hand smoke -- the smoke coming off a second-hand smoker. Where's the research on that?

Now, as everyone who saw "The Insider" will remember, Russell Crowe's character, in trying to testify against the tobacco industry, was up against an adversary that would do anything to stop him, from e-mailing him threats to targeting his wife and child to forcing him to fight off man-eating lions on the blood-drenched floor of the Coliseum.

Because, by definition, their best customers are the ones most likely to up and die on them, tobacco companies must constantly look for fresh meat. As a result, they must aim their laser sites on the only group of people who are easy prey because they are so naive, so easily swayed by peer pressure, and so unready to make their own decisions as mature adults: Southerners. Also, teenagers.

And they start 'em off young. Remember candy cigarettes? I used to love those. At first, I only enjoyed one with an occasional glass of Kool-Aid or, say, after a wild and crazy Slip-and-Slide party at Ray Luigi's place, but pretty soon I was up to three packs a day. I never went in for bubblegum cigars; they always seemed a tad, I dunno, pretentious.

Our war on tobacco is a microcosm for a fundamental contradiction in the American psyche. We see ourselves as independent, livin'-my-life-without-the-government-on-my-back Marlboro men until something goes wrong, whereupon we turn into whiny, litigious crybabies looking for someone to foot the bill for our fuckups.

Currently there's a raft of ex-smokers suing tobacco companies because they got sick, and I just don't think that's right. Sure, I hate tobacco companies and think they sell a quintessentially evil product, and then lie insidiously through their yellowed teeth, all the while trading in their venal, profiteering souls for a lucrative paycheck in this life, knowing full well they'll spend all of time having their flesh raked by the fiery claws of Hell, while the cries of all their victims resonate in their ears for all eternity. That being said, I hate lawyers even more.

Yes, I feel sorry for the people suffering the effects of years of smoking. Yes, I think the tobacco companies should be punished for their deceptions and subterfuge. But suing a tobacco company because youve developed a health problem from smoking cigarettes is like suing McDonalds because they failed to inform you that the hot coffee you ordered will scald your lap if you spill it on yourself. Hmm, bad example.

OK, let's try this one. Suing a tobacco company because you've developed a health problem from smoking cigarettes is like demanding an apology from the "Members Only" jacket people for your not-getting-laid in the 80's.

It's pretty clear that President Bush isn't going to lead a fight against the cigarette companies, as he has stated several times that he believes the answer to the problem lies in opening up the Alaskan Wildlife Preserve for growing more tobacco.

I believe that right now the tobacco companies are missing a perfect PR opportunity to turn the tide of public opinion in their favor. I'm speaking, of course, about the energy crisis and the surrounding environmental concerns. For example, if the lights go out during an unexpected rolling blackout, who's going to have a lighter to provide emergency illumination? The smoker. If we experience increased pollution from unregulated power plants, who's going to require less oxygen because of diminished lung capacity? The smoker. And if ecosystems fall like dominoes, rendering the human race a mere band of cannibalistic scavengers wandering through a barren wasteland, whose flesh will possess the pleasant smoky taste of barbecue? Thank you, smokers.

Hey, America grows most of the world's tobacco. If I were president, I'd go on national television and tell those jagoffs from OPEC, "Hey, you know what's tougher to kick than cheap oil? Those Yankee Devil Marlboro 100's that you're always lightin' off a burning American flag. Yeah, that's right, Sheik Octane, you heard me. I don't see any tobacco plants sprouting up from that desert shitbox of yours. Now I want to see premium gasoline going for fifty cents a gallon again, or you guys are going to be up all night chain-sucking on goat-flavored Jolly Ranchers."

Of course that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.


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