2009.04.22 Cigarettes and Texans united to save us $$$$$

Written by David Green.


It seems everywhere I look lately, there’s somebody trying to turn conventional wisdom on its ear. Like the recent news that, contrary to what we’ve heard for years, health care costs for smokers is actually less than those for non-smokers.

Remember all the billions of dollars that the tobacco industry had to, ahem, cough up a few years ago to repay the states for costs attributed to sick smokers? Now, several researchers say it is the non-smoker who really costs the most money for health care.

One study claims that from age 20 on, non-smokers average health care costs total $417,000. For smokers, the amount averages $326,000 per person, a savings of over $90,000 per smoker.

This flies in the face of recent legislation that seeks to give the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate tobacco products. According to an Associated Press story, proponents of the bill quoted numbers from the Center for Disease Control that say smokers cost the economy $96 billion a year in health care costs.

However, they left out CDC figures that state due to smokers dying sooner than non-smokers, there are huge savings in Medicare, Social Security, pensions and various other programs. Obviously, dying sooner is a bad thing, but if you want to talk about costs, there are unfortunately extra costs involved when a non-smoker lives longer.

“It looks unpleasant or ghoulish to look at the cost savings as well as the cost increases and it’s not a good thing that smoking kills people,” said Vanderbilt University economist Kip Viscusi, “but if you’re going to follow this health-cost train all the way, you have to take into account all the effects, not just the ones you like in terms of getting your bill passed.”

Viscusi has done a study of costs and savings related to smoking and his findings show that for each pack of cigarettes smoked, the country has a net cost savings of 32 cents. A two-pack-a-day smoker would save the country over $230 a year.

Now what happens when the tobacco companies ask for their billions of dollars back? And is it now somehow patriotic to light up? Save the economy, take up smoking?

Come to think of it, President Obama is a smoker. Could he possibly smoke enough to rescue the economy by himself? Not likely. He would need a lot of help. Maybe the nation’s newest Democrat could lend him a hand.

The newest Democrat? That would be a frequent subject of the column you’re reading, namely singer/songwriter/author/ salsa-olive oil-cigar magnate/politician Kinky Friedman.

When last we visited Kinky, he had finished a dismal fourth in his independent campaign for governor of Texas. Since then, he has been pursuing his various business interests and trying to sell an apparently huge leftover inventory of “Kinky in ‘06” merchandise. Now, he’s made a decision on his political future. He’s going to run for Texas governor in 2010 as a Democrat.

Kinky’s announcement makes this sound like the most natural thing to do. His statement included a list of Texas Democrats through history that he admired, including Sam Houston. That’s an interesting choice because during his 2006 campaign, he always referred to Houston as the last independent governor of Texas. Now, he’s become a Democrat overnight, just like Kinky.

A Reader’s Digest profile last year referred to Kinky as “a man of the people—but mostly inebriated people.”  I guess if they’re drunk enough, it won’t matter which party he belongs to. He used to say that the Republicans and Democrats were like paper and plastic. So does that mean he’s now the plastic candidate? Or paper? He never did explain which was which.

Kinky will have to strike up a relationship with President Obama. He’s already friends with Bill Clinton and Bushes 41 and 43. He was also a buddy of John McCain, but Obama stopped him from becoming the fourth Friedman pal in a row in the White House. But now that Kinky’s a Democrat, he has enough in common with the President to start a friendship.

Kinky was born in Chicago, so they have that Illinois connection. Kinky is also famous for smoking cigars and sells his own line of them, so perhaps he could persuade President Obama to switch from cigarettes to “Kinkycristos.” And with both of them smoking cigars, who knows how much in health care costs they can save us?

  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.base Ball
    UMPIRE Thomas Henthorn tosses the bat between team captains Mikayla Price and Chuck Piskoti of Flint’s Lumber City Base Ball Club. Following the 1860 rules, after the bat was grabbed by the captains, captains’ hands advanced to the top of the bat—one hand on top of the other. The captain whose hand ended up on top decided who would bat first. Additional photos of Sunday’s game appear on page 12 of this week’s Observer. The contest was organized in conjunction with Stair District Library’s Hometown Teams exhibit that runs through Nov. 20.
  • Front.chat
    VALUE OF ATHLETICS—Morenci graduate John Bancroft (center) takes a turn at the microphone during a chat session at the opening of the Hometown Teams exhibit at Stair District Library. Clockwise to his left is John Dillon, Jed Hall, Jim Bauer, Joe Farquhar, George Hollstein, George Vereecke and Mike McDowell. Thomas Henthorn (at the podium) kicked off the conversation. Henthorn, a University of Michigan–Flint professor, will return to Morenci this Sunday to lead a game of vintage base ball at the school softball field.
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    HUDSON RUNNER Jacob Morgan looks toward the top of the hill with dismay during the tough finish at Harrison Lake State Park. Fayette runner Jacob Garrow focuses on the summit, also, during the Eagle Invitational cross country run Saturday morning. Continuing rain and drizzle made the course even more challenging. Results of the race are in this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.
  • Front.crossing
    Crossing over—Jim Heiney was given a U.S. flag to carry by George Vereecke (behind Jim in the hat), turning him into the leader of the parade. Bridge Walk participants cross over Bean Creek while, in the background, members of the Morenci Legion Riders cross the main traffic bridge on East Street South. Additional photos appear on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.hose Testing
    HOSE safety—The FireCatt hose testing company from Troy put Morenci Fire Department hose to the test Monday morning when Mill Street was closed to traffic. The company also checks nozzles and ladders for wear in an effort to keep fire fighters safe while on calls.

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