Is the Tobacco Industry Pro-life? Let's Ask the Bishops
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Dec 02, 2009 at 03:33:56 PM EST
I recently  called on mainstream Catholics to remonstrate against the aggressive behavior of reactionaries within the Church.  Increasingly bishops are playing politics with the Mass itself, denying Catholic elected officials who dissent on some matters, the sacrament of Communion.  Such coercion appears to me, and to many other Catholics, as part of an effort to compel all Americans to live under Catholic orthodoxy, subject to the interpretation of the prelates.

As I have written, dignified but firm acts of resistance are now the order of the day. In this post and the next, I will put forth and discuss possible paths for resistance. One obvious such path is to call out the hierarchy when they are being hypocritical. So let's begin there. One obvious example is the hypocrisy of church reactionaries when it comes to the politics of tobacco.

In this installment, I will examine some of the deadly effects tobacco has on human health -- including fetuses. In part two, I will focus on some prominent Catholics politicians who have not only opposed reproductive freedom under the rubric of being "prolife," but turned a blind eye  to the addiction and medical ravages of tobacco while accepting campaign contributions from tobacco interests -- and even do their bidding.

But first, let's look at the use of communion as a political weapon.

Most recently, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Rhode Island targeted a member of his state's congressional delegation -- Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) -- who does not agree with the hierarchy on issues such as abortion and stem cell research. For this reason, Tobin has barred Kennedy from the sacrament of Communion.  In a recent interview he said that he targeted Rep. Kennedy because of his prominence as an elected official.  But Tobin's unambiguous intent is to bend the congressman to the will of the Church -- even if it means trampling the consciences and  the civil and constitutional rights of prochoice Catholic and non-Catholic Americans

Bishop Tobin is among those who say that Catholics who support reproductive rights are unCatholic. And abortion rights supporters like Kennedy are often described as being part of a a culture of death.   But reactionaries like Bishop Tobin and  Archbishop Raymond Burke apparently don't count tobacco addiction and the resultant mortality and morbidity rates for fetuses as well as children and adults of all ages, in their highly selective definition of the culture of death.

Tobacco's Deadly Legacy

According to the The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids:

Deaths & Disease in the USA from Tobacco Use:
*    People who die each year from their own cigarette smoking:  approx. 400,000

*    Adult nonsmokers who die each year from exposure to secondhand smoke:  approx. 50,000

*    Kids under 18 alive today who will ultimately die from smoking (unless smoking rates decline):  6,000,000+

*    People in the USA who currently suffer from smoking-caused illness:  8.6 million

The Harm to Fetuses

According to The March of Dimes, both first-hand and second-hand tobacco smoke is hazardous to any fetus:

Statistics from the United States are compelling. According to the U.S. Public Health Service, if all pregnant women in this country stopped smoking, there would be an estimated:
     11 percent reduction in stillbirths
     5 percent reduction in newborn deaths
Cigarette smoke contains more than 2,500 chemicals.  It is not known for certain which of these chemicals are harmful to the developing baby,  but both nicotine and carbon monoxide play a role in causing adverse pregnancy outcomes.

A recent study suggests that women who smoke anytime during the month before pregnancy to the end of the first trimester are more likely to have a baby with birth defects, particularly congenital heart defects. The risk of heart defects appears to increase with the number of cigarettes a woman smokes.

Tobacco Use in the USA:
*    High school students who are current (past month) smokers:  20.0% or 3.5 million [Boys: 21.3% Girls: 18.7%]

*    High school males who currently use smokeless tobacco:  13.4%  [Girls: 2.3%]

*    Kids (under 18) who try smoking for the first time each day: 3,500+

*    Kids (under 18) who become new regular, daily smokers each day:    about 1,000

*    Kids exposed to secondhand smoke at home:  15.5 million

*    Workplaces that have smoke-free policies:  68.6%

*    Packs of cigarettes consumed by kids each year:  800 million (roughly $2.0 billion per year in sales revenue)  

*    Adults in the USA who smoke: 19.8% or more than 43 million  [Men: 22.3% Women: 17.4%]

The costs of tobacco use is staggering:

Tobacco-Related Monetary Costs in the USA
Total annual public and private health care expenditures caused by smoking:  $96 billion
- Annual Federal and state government smoking-caused Medicaid payments:  $30.9 billion
[Federal share: $17.6 billion per year.  States' share: $13.3 billion]
  • Federal government smoking-caused Medicare expenditures each year: $27.4 billion
  • Other federal government tobacco-caused health care costs (e.g. through VA health care): $9.6 billion
o Annual health care expenditures solely from secondhand smoke exposure: $4.98 billion

And that is just a sample of the costs.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids concludes that "U.S. taxpayers ultimately pay roughly $38 billion dollars each year in federal taxes to treat the many health problems caused by smoking."

While it is possible there are exceptions that prove the rule -- I cannot  think of one elected official has been threatened with loss of the sacraments for taking tobacco money.     .

And as we shall examine in the next part of this inquiry, there are some Catholic politicians who hold themselves up as being "pro-life" because of their opposition to abortion, who nevertheless accept campaign contributions from tobacco interests.

Use this information to challenge the bishops and the Catholic Right when they start deriding pro-choice Catholics as being part of "a culture of death." At best, it shows a sense of misplaced priorities; at worst it indicates that they refuse to hold their political allies accountable on a product whose prominent side effect is death.

An Achilles Heel? I think so.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Wed Dec 02, 2009 at 06:36:34 PM EST

It appears that fetuses (preborn infants) belong to the Church, but after they are born, they're the responsibility of the parents.  I noticed this disconnect many years ago when I had dealings with a Catholic adoption agency that promoted unwed mothers not aborting, but if they decided to keep the baby there was no help from the church, they just turned them over to the welfare agency.

Please don't ask a bishop to be 'internally consistent', it would probably  tie his guts up in knots!
Jim of Olym

by rdrjames on Sun Dec 06, 2009 at 10:25:58 PM EST

This from noted Catholic writer James Carroll:

For the first time in its history, the American Catholic hierarchy is solidly right wing. There is not one liberal voice among its members. The bishops are at home with the heirs of a know-nothing fundamentalism that once, by every measure of theology and social policy, embodied the Church's opposite. This realignment is the consequence, within Catholicism, of the conservative appointments made to the episcopate over 27 years by Pope John Paul II, but it also reflects the broader, post-Ronald Reagan phenomenon of the arrival of the Religious Right as an establishment force in American politics.

That Catholic bishops are genuinely conservative is beyond doubt, but one might also note how their unprecedented alliance with an already powerful political-religious movement nicely solves the bishops' biggest problem-the bankruptcy of their moral authority and loss of social clout in the wake of the priest-pedophilia scandal. New Protestant allies are happy to let go of old anti-Catholic prejudices, even those confirmed by priestly child abuse, for the sake of advancing their narrow moral agenda. Meanwhile, an equally divided political culture puts bishops in the cat-bird seat when it comes to tipping the scales of close elections or contested legislation, and that unexpectedly pivotal role has rescued them. The self-righteous glee with which they spout ethical absolutes, the fervor with which they threaten excommunication of dissidents, and the chest-thumping with which they mark their decisive influence on urgent legislation all suggest the degree of their relief to be out from under the cloud of contempt in which they were held because of their handling of the sex abuse-crisis. But that crisis, the sources of which have yet to be addressed, is not over.

That is a good indicator why many of the bishops stay silent on this vital health issue.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Wed Dec 02, 2009 at 08:37:19 PM EST

I appreciate this and the Carroll article-how did I miss it?

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by LayneMarvin on Thu Jan 09, 2020 at 01:49:04 AM EST

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by IsaiahJosiah on Mon Mar 30, 2020 at 09:49:27 AM EST

Yeah, I think the tobacco industry is pro-life. I would say that the people who are looking for everything you ever wanted to know about the puff bar disposable device won't agree with this, but I think they can't say anything about this.

by LayneMarvin on Tue Apr 07, 2020 at 08:27:23 AM EST

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