Since I started working in a restaurant, my nightmares have been haunted by the angry demands of guests on a Saturday night. They don’t want to sit by the bar or they need a booth instead of a table. The priority, however, is always nonsmoking over smoking. To some, the section they sit in does not matter, while for others nonsmoking is an absolute must. For many nonsmokers, secondhand smoke just became a bigger issue.
Congress passed a piece of legislation early last month that takes the burden of inspecting tobacco imports off the U.S. government. This means they no longer have to ensure the tobacco is free from dangerous chemicals and pesticides that can be used legally in other countries but are banned in America.
The government seems to have a double standard lately when it comes to regulating the tobacco industry. In 1999, the Justice Department launched a $280 billion racketeering lawsuit against a number of tobacco companies for lying about the dangers cigarettes pose to smokers. The trial started in mid-September and is expected to last about six months, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Congress must be drooling over the possible $280 billion headed their way, but they are unwilling to take it upon themselves to make sure the tobacco coming into the country is clean and safe… well, as safe as it is going to get.
Tom Glynn, director of science and trends for the American Cancer Society told the Associated Press that about 60 of the 4,000 chemicals in cigarettes have been connected with cancer.
“What this may do is just add to that number, making an already toxic product more toxic,” Glynn said.
I find this a little concerning. As a waiter and a bartender, I find myself around smokers all the time. Secondhand smoke does not really bother me, or ruin my appetite. But I know my risk of lung cancer is greater from working in a smoke-filled atmosphere on a regular basis for more than a year.
I am not the kind of person who tells a smoker they are going to get cancer. That is the job of the surgeon general, and that is why there is a warning on every pack of cigarettes sold in this country. Smokers choose to ignore the warning and smoke anyway, and that is their choice.
Now there is no telling what poisons they may be inhaling, let alone what they are exhaling into the air for everyone else to enjoy. Nonsmokers should be especially worried because they have to breathe in these toxic fumes against their will in restaurants and bars. Sure, no one is forcing me to work at a restaurant and breathe in other people’s smoke, but it is my job and I shouldn’t have to worry about health risks.
There is no reason for government or the tobacco industry to agonize over health risks either. Tobacco growers can use cheaper pesticides despite the dangers, and sell their tobacco to American cigarette makers for less. The cheaper the tobacco, the more U.S. cigarette companies can buy, and the more extra-dangerous cigarettes they can produce.
Phillip Morris USA and Reynolds American told the Associated Press they would inspect the tobacco for harmful chemicals on their own, but self-regulation may not be effective for long. It’s like a teacher telling you to do your homework, but then saying it’s not going to be collected. The companies say they are going to inspect the imported tobacco, but when they realize they can save a few bucks without checking it, there won’t be any regulation to stop them. Let’s face it, tobacco companies aren’t exactly pillars of business ethics.
There is a solution to all this. If the case against the tobacco industry is found in favor of the government, they will have $280 billion at their disposal. Some of that money could easily be used to hire inspectors to check out tobacco shipments. If the government loses the case, the cigarette companies promising to do it themselves could pay the government to do it for them. This way, the companies are only paying what they would pay their own employees, and the public can rest assured that someone really is looking after their health.
Torin Sweeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.