The word pernicious came into my vocabulary associated with the disease pernicious anemia, a gastric malady having to do with the loss of vitamin B12 and its effect on the gastric system. For some reason, I picked up this word in my childhood, probably having heard it applied to someone I knew. I think it was the colorful sound of the two words together that made it stick in my memory.
But as years have gone by I have come to recognize the appropriateness of application of the word pernicious to factors other than disease. In fact, it is fair to say that pernicious is an adjective which deserves a recognized place in my lexicon. It is easily and wisely applied to all kinds of situations.
As the picture points out graphically, smoking is a pernicious activity. It kills. For decades the scientific world has spoken definitively about the fact that the regular inhalation of tobacco smoke into the lungs is almost a guarantee of the onset of lung cancer. The chemicals associated with smoking of cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, and even the chewing of tobacco make the habits pernicious. There is nothing good to be said about these habits; they are deadly and should be avoided at all cost.
Having said that, I recognize the difficulty of breaking the habit. I smoked for just a few years at the end of high school and throughout college. A cardiac event when I was 24 led my physician to tell me that I had two options:
- I could quite smoking.
- I could die.
It seemed a little early in life to take the second option, so I went home, tossed the half-empty pack of Newports into the basket, and have never smoked since. But it wasn’t until I was around 45 that my cardiologist said to me that from all he could see, my lungs were finally clear of the symptoms of earlier smoking.
What amazes me is that in this day and age when we are clear about the dangers of smoking, the government continues to give subsidies to farmers who grow tobacco. In 2011 the United States government gave $191,218,926 to the tobacco industry in the form of subsidies. During the three-year period starting in 2009, the tobacco growing subsidy was $588 million.*
Recent breakthroughs in cancer genetics and lung cancer screening have added urgency to advocates’ calls for more money for lung cancer research, which will get $231.2 million this year from the two main federal agencies funding such work.**
That seems to me to be a disconnect. At a time when our U.S. government is pushing for science to triumph over myth, this imbalance is pernicious. It would appear to be another case of the power of lobbying over the members of Congress. There have been numerous calls for us to eliminate the tobacco subsidies, but the funding persists. States which depend upon tobacco farming and tobacco product industries for taxation are reluctant to take the matter seriously. There is no question that the financial impact of reducing the economics of the tobacco industry would be problematic, including the loss of many jobs. But the moral and ethical imbalance is egregious. People die from this product at alarming rates.
Photo Credit: Huffington Post