Steve Mullen: Where there's smoke, there's fat


Steve Mullen



Maybe we picked the wrong time to start all these smoking bans. Tobacco''s on a roll.


This is because we''re even fatter than we''re tobacco-addicted, and those who fund prevention programs are noticing. Joe Camel owes Ronald McDonald a big thank-you. The heat''s off.


A story in The New York Times this week reported how funding for anti-obesity programs is rising at practically the same rate anti-tobacco funding is falling.



"In the race for preventive health care dollars, from charities and from federal and state government sources, the tobacco warriors have become a big loser," the Times reports. During the Great Recession, there''s only so much money to go around, and burgers, not butts, are public enemy No. 1.


The danger, according to anti-tobacco advocates? Any gains fighting tobacco use will be rolled back.


In Mississippi, we earn $256 million a year in tobacco tax revenue, but spend only $11 million annually to help adults quit or keep kids from starting, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. In our state, one in five high school kids smokes, and nearly one in four adults does. Many more dip or chew. Even our middle-schoolers smoke cigars (cigars!) above the national average.


In case you''re feeling short-changed by the foundations and the federal government shutting off the anti-tobacco spigot, look at the bright side: More than 38 percent of Mississippians are obese -- the worst obesity rate in the nation.


But of course, in Mississippi, what doesn''t kill us makes us stronger. And as adults, why not pound down a couple Big Macs to celebrate the fact that we made it out of childhood in the first place? Because that''s no small feat, compared to the rest of the country. The Annie E. Casey Foundation''s 21st annual nationwide Kids Count survey, released this week, again ranked Mississippi 50th in childhood deaths and infant mortality, and 49th in teen deaths.


So what does one do at a time like this? Buy stock in tobacco companies. Tobacco stocks "are still growing revenues, almost laughing in the face of the anti-smoking policies that send their users out into the winter rain for a puff," the online Business Report said in a story Tuesday.


"The economics of the tobacco industry are attractive for shareholders of the major producers and industry fundamentals have become more favorable over the past decade," the report said.


It''s a free country, and smoking bans and anti-obesity campaigns aside, we still have the choice to do what we want. Just remember to be proactive -- Mississippians have the worst life expectancy in the nation, so we have less time to do it in.



Steve Mullen is Managing Editor of The Dispatch.


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