Here we are already into the second week of the New Year and have you been resolute?

It's perfectly acceptable to be a resolute person, especially at this time of the year. According to Webster's, resolute means: Having, or characterized by, a decided purpose.

Oh, sure, losing weight, stopping smoking, eating healthy, and increasing exercise are among the most popular promises we make to ourselves. And it seems there is always some degree of fanfare that goes with the announced resolution.

Then, we find a few weeks into the New Year that in many cases those resolutions have gone by the weigh side, have fallen into the ashtray, have been left at the fast-food joint, or have become the victims of the television remote control.

Well, the ol' one seriously believes that if there is one resolution that should be kept, not just for one year, but for the rest of one's life, it is the one about smoking. It defies the ol' one's understanding what a person gains from smoking. Not only is it a bad habit, it is, plain and simple, a deadly game of Russian roulette that pours billions of dollars into the coffers of Big Tobacco.

Consider these facts from the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: Tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, causing more than 440,000 deaths each year and resulting in an annual cost of more than $75 billion in direct medical costs. Tack on another $80 billion in indirect costs resulting from lost productivity. Nationally, smoking results in more than 5.6 million years of potential life lost each year. Up to 300,000 children suffer from respiratory tract infections because of exposure to secondhand smoke. The center estimates that 46.5 million adults in this country smoke even though such a habit will result in death or disability for half of all regular users.

To continue academic for a few more lines, smoking is known to cause an interesting state of affairs: chronic lung disease, heart disease, stroke, cancer of the lungs, larynx, esophagus, mouth, and bladder. And it is a factor in cancer of the cervix, pancreas, and kidneys.

The ol' one, who is a non-smoker, cannot fathom why anyone would want to start or continue smoking given its deadly consequences. And, we are not talking ol' Nebraska wives' tales, either. The catalyst for these discoveries was the first U.S. Surgeon General's report on smoking and its effect on health issued in 1964. The Surgeon General's Advisory Committee stated, "Cigarette smoking is a health hazard of sufficient importance in the United States to warrant appropriate remedial action." Congress got into the act with the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965 and the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1969. As a result, health warnings appeared on cigarette packs, and cigarette advertising was banned on radio and television (Remember the Marlboro Man? His death was attributed to smoking.)

Then, Big Tobacco was hit in 1998 with the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) and near $250 billion in fines and more limitations on marketing opportunities. The Clinton Administration also brought a $20 billion lawsuit against Big Tobacco to recoup health care costs associated with smoking. Curiously enough, President Bush decided not to follow up on the Clinton lawsuit, thus saving Big Tobacco some embarrassment and a lot of money.

But hold the 'phone! Those MSA payments are deductible from cigarette companies' federal and some state tax payments as business expenses, which costs the federal government $1.4 billion each year in federal corporate tax revenues, according to research conducted by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids headquartered in Washington, D.C.

Now, try this on for size. The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the second-largest cigarette manufacturer in the U.S. (its 14 different brands of cigarettes includes Camel, Winston, Salem, and Doral), admits in its "Opinions & Philosophy" section on its website, "We produce a product that has significant and inherent health risks for a number of serious diseases, and may contribute to causing these diseases in some individuals." At the R.J. Reynolds annual shareholders meeting of April 30, 2003, its Chairman and CEO Andy Schindler reported that net sales in 2002 for RJR Tobacco were $6.2 billion, down 1% from 2001. The company also had cash and short-term investments of $2.2 billion and equity of $6.7 billion.

Granted the ol' one is no financial expert, but $6.2 billion represents a lot of smoke, no matter how it gets in your eyes, and, if you can, look at that smoke equity. And that's just one of the five members of Big Tobacco! Phillip Morris, incidentally, is number one.

So, what's wrong with this picture? Thousands of people die each year from smoking and Big Tobacco is permitted to continue making cigarettes, about 400 billion annually in the U.S.

The ol' one is the first to admit that this picture is a very complicated one, given the complex nature and marketing reach of a big business like the tobacco industry. But is it that complicated on a local level? For example, why do certain drug store chains sell cigarettes? Why are cigarettes prominently displayed in convenience stores like Turkey Hill and WAWA? Why can't the federal government do more to control and eventually eradicate this health menace?

Yes, be resolved. The ol' one is gearing up for something in the coming weeks. And, here's a saying the ol' one heard a number of years ago: "Kissing someone who smokes is like licking the bottom of an ash tray." Oh, yeah ... smoking also ruins the taste of a good cup o' joe.

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