Smokin Mad Kathy Posner

According to a story in Tuesday’s Tribune, more than 21% of Illinois adults smoke--which is higher than the national average. Chicago is the second most expensive city in which to smoke in the United States. (The story did not say what the most expensive city is, but I am guessing New York City.) Also fascinating in the story was the fact that the group that smokes the most is the mentally ill.The Tribune wrote, “Studies have identified a common genetic vulnerability to mental illness and nicotine addiction, “said Brian Hitsman, an assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University who researches tobacco use among psychiatric patients. People with mental illness smoke at nearly twice the rate of those without such disorders.”So if we juxtapose the facts that Illinoisans smoke more than the national average and that people with mental illnesses smoke more than any group; one could assume that Illinois has more people with mental illness than in the rest of the country! In regard to other smoking statistics, the Tribune wrote, “In Illinois, adult men are more likely to smoke than women, while high school girls are more likely to smoke than boys. African-Americans smoke at the highest rate among ethnic groups, while Asian-Americans smoke at the lowest rate. The poor and less educated smoke at higher rates as well.”Smoking is an addiction. I am addicted. Since I am not mentally ill (though some may disagree with that statement), an African-American man and I am well educated, I don’t fit the profile for smoking. But I smoke. I am smoking as I write this story. I will take another puff now. Most of the 79% of people who do not smoke, vilify smokers. We are treated as pariahs who must sneak off to secret passageways to satisfy our craving. We are shunned by the general public and even, in many cases, our own family members. Laws are constantly being passed to make smoking almost impossible anywhere except in one’s own home or car. People have no sympathy for our addiction. Because we are in the minority, we have no power. I do not drink alcohol. According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2006 (most recent year with data available), 75% of adults age 18 and over in the United States had used alcohol at some point in their lives. Since 61% are current drinkers, consumers of alcohol are in the majority. When you are in the majority, you have the power. That is why it is tolerable to be a social drinker, but not acceptable to be a smoker. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says, “Alcoholics are in the grip of a powerful craving, or uncontrollable need, for alcohol that overrides their ability to stop drinking. This need can be as strong as the need for food or water.” The description of an alcoholic fits my description of me as a smoker. I have an uncontrollable need. As Charleston Heston said in Planet of the Apes, “I am not an animal.” Yet smokers are treated as such. My revenge? On September 1st, the Illinois excise tax on alcohol will have its greatest increase in a decade. For a one-fifth bottle of distilled spirits, the tax will go from 90 cents to $1.71; the tax on a bottle of wine will increase 13 cents to 28 cents; and a six-pack of beer will go from 10.4 cents to 13 cents. Maybe drinkers should give up alcohol and take up smoking. My bad habit might be less expensive!
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