Nanny State

Why Pick on Smokers? Because We Can!


Perusing a proposal (PDF) from Action on Smoking and Health for a government-imposed surcharge on smokers, Michael Siegel notes this revealing passage, explaining why a surcharge on fat people is less feasible (emphasis added):

Fewer than 20% of adults are smokers, and only about 13% smoke daily, while about 33% of adults are obese, and another 33% are classified as overweight. Thus the number potentially affected by a smoker surcharge is far smaller, and, because smokers are concentrated largely in the lower socioeconomic classes, they are less likely to be able to effectively object. A surcharge on the obese would arouse objections from a much larger segment of the population, including many people with considerable influence.

Siegel, a public health professor at Boston University and prominent anti-smoking activist, is offended by ASH's candor:

This demonstrates that to ASH, this truly is class warfare. It is not about health or reducing health care costs; instead, it is about declaring war on a particular social class that ASH apparently abhors.

Can't it be both? The anti-smoking movement has always had an ambivalent attitude toward smokers, who are seen both as victims, tricked by tobacco companies into a deadly habit they cannot escape, and as villains, irresponsibly imposing their fumes, ashes, butts, and health care costs on their fellow citizens. Accordingly, they must be helped, but they also must be punished. Policies that make smoking more expensive or less convenient, such as cigarette taxes, smoking bans, and the surcharge ASH is pushing, can be defended as serving both goals.

As Siegel notes, ASH is so eager to promote the surcharge (based on the erroneuous argument that smoking imposes a net burden on taxpayers) that it contradicts anti-smoking dogma (and its own position in tobacco litigation) by declaring that people can give up cigarettes any time they want to:

Most people see buying and using cigarettes as a habit or a choice, thus fitting the criteria for a user fee. Although there is evidence that for many people smoking involves addiction, the addiction is to the drug nicotine, not to the act of smoking itself, which is a behavior.

Because those who desire to can easily ingest nicotine from nicotine gum, nicotine patches, nicotine spray, and nicotine inhalers, their decision to ingest it by smoking rather than by using nicotine replacement products is a choice. Since it is a choice rather than an addiction, disease, or health status, it is fairer to impose personal responsibility for the choice by making smokers bear at least a small portion of the huge costs their choice imposes on the economy and the health care system.

Siegel correctly notes that cigarette smoking is a complex habit that cannot be reduced to nicotine, as indicated by the low success rates of people who try to replace cigarettes with pharmaceutical products containing the drug. But he makes a common error by insisting that smoking can't be a choice because it's an addiction. Likewise, ASH, which heretofore has said smokers should be able to recover damages from cigarette manufacturers because smoking is not a voluntaruly assumed risk, now says smoking can't be an addiction because it's a choice. As writers such as Thomas Szasz, Stanton Peele, and Jeffrey Schaler have long argued, one concept does not preclude the other. Understood as a strong attachment to something that provides pleasure or relieves stress, addiction leaves a large role for choice, as demonstrated by all the world's nonsmokers (many of whom have tried cigarettes without ever consuming them regularly) and ex-smokers (who consumed cigarettes regularly yet managed to stop, typically without any kind of formal treatment).

The disease model of addiction, which portrays smoking as something that happens to people rather than something that they do, is consistent with the mixture of sympathy and disgust that smokers elicit from public-health paternalists. Like carriers of bubonic plague, smokers deserve compassion, but they also need to be ostracized, for their own good and ours. A similar mixture of sympathy and disgust is apparent in the anti-obesity movement: These poor porkers can't help themselves, so we have to, whether they like it or not. Any cost they suffer as a result of our interventions will help them in the long run by encouraging them to shape up. But they also pretty much deserve it, for being such slothful, repulsive gluttons. As with smoking, there is a class angle, since in America the fattest people are also the poorest (an amazing development from a historical perspective). But as ASH notes, anti-fat measures are politically tougher, since the government says most of us—including plenty of affluent, influential people who can "effectively object"—weigh too much.

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  1. Get lung cancer, you fucking right-wing slimeball.

    1. *internet tough guy alert*

    2. Shut the fuck up John Banzhaf.

    3. That’s right, stick up for the scumbags at ASH, Max. You brainwashed anti-smoking nut job.

  2. All of these things are about class warfare. The same people who think smoking is horrible think it is way cool for President Clinton to smoke Cuban Cigars. The same people who want to tax McDonald’s, think a night out at Morton’s is A-OK. It is all about picking on the poor and the unhip.

  3. We have to charge smokers more, because we have to pay for their healthcare, just like the Master Settlement Agreement. Then after we’ve pre-collected for these expected healthcare costs and blown the money on booze, hookers, carbon credits, and public employee unions, we’ll pretend smokers didn’t prepay for their state supplied healthcare and come back for yet another bite at the apple.

  4. Does anyone really think it’s a coincidence that smoking has decreased and obesity has increased? A huge percentage of people gain weight when they stop smoking.

    1. Does this explain the obese 4-year olds? /snark

      It might have an impact, but if someone quits smoking isn’t it usually for their health? Thus it follows that they’d not let themselves get fat… I’d rather square the blame on people being fucking irresponsible.

      1. I was mostly being flippant, but I’m on the side of irresponsibility too.

    2. It’s an interesting point. I think you’re right that a non-trivial amount of the increase in obesity is due to people quitting smoking, in which case even though obesity has increased, it’s still a net-health benefit.

    3. Agree 100%. The increase in obesity has a lot of causes–it’s really sort of a perfect storm–but the decrease in smoking is one. I speak from experience. The last time I quit smoking I got fat and depressed–it made me feel like I was swapping one problem for two.

      1. And not surprisingly, the one of the single biggest causes has been the reclassification and defining down of what is obesity.

        1. Obesity is like obscenity, I know it what I see it. In the mirror.

          1. “Obesity is like obscenity, I know it what I see it. In the mirror.” Are we talking about a two-way mirror?

            1. No. I’m fat. I am destroying America with my disgusting body.

              1. Your diabetic lifestyle choice is immoral and I can’t support it.

                1. RACIST!

  5. I don’t like tobacco at all, but I smoke once a year on my birthday as a political statement. After a few years of doing this, I’m still not addicted.

  6. Yet another backassward attempt to end free riding (smokers who end up free loading in ICU) by charging everyone who engages in an activity (smoking). This way just enables and rewards irresponsibility.

  7. Legalize marijuana and you solve both the tobacco smoking problem and the weight problem. Kill two buds with one stoned.

    1. Doesn’t pot make you fat by making you hungry?

      1. From what I’ve heard, smoking pot for a week and then quitting is an effective way to lose weight.

        1. Hmm Interesting. I wonder how that works.

    2. I dunno, I keep a pack of Camels in my stash box; every once in a blue moon I’ll burn down one of those heaters before sparking up a bowl. Makes the grass taste absolutely fantastic.

      And then I eat enough calories to power Al Gore’s night-light for an entire lifetime.

      1. Kids these days.

        You smoke the cigarette after the bowl. It’s like sex.

        The trifecta: lines of coke, weed and a parliament.

        If you want to live on the edge, you make the P-Funk and coke-smoke.

        1. You smoke the cigarette after the bowl.

          Oh believe me, I’ve been given the “icing on the cake” argument before, I know that’s the typical preference. The thing is, I don’t especially like tobacco or nicotine. To me, the whole reason for smoking the cig is to make the taste of the grass stand out.

          1. …The taste of weed should be unadulterated by the ills of tobacco!

            Ah. More power to you, I suppose.

            Perhaps we can agree on the awesomeness of cokesmokes.

            1. I’ve never done the cocaine, so I’ll have to defer to your opinion on the relative merits of cokesmokes. Consider me supportive of your position.

            2. ‘Round here, back in the day, we called ’em coolies. Ever hear that?

              1. You commie.

                For the uninitiated…you take a cig, lick the tip and put some coke on the end. Then when you smoke the fucker you go to magic happy supper fun land.

                Your lungs also despise you.

                1. I know people who like to sprinkle coke on grass too. Although I’ve read that smoking powder cocaine is incredibly wasteful. You gotta rock that shit up if you want to be efficient with your yayo. Crack FTW.

                2. I would expect nothing less from a fascist like you, ed.

                  The “By the Book” method, as explained to me by a state trooper when I was twelve, is as follows;

                  1.)Lay down a fat rail
                  2.)Lick on side of the cigarette length wise
                  3.)Roll the cigarette in the yay so all the coke sticks to the side of the cigarette

                  It sounds like a pain in the ass, but if you have kids, even a six year old can become pretty adept at this method. And, that is more quality time you spend together.

                  1. the beauty of this makes me weep

    3. Get two birds stoned at once. It’s like “Accordingly, they must be helped, but they also must be punished.” has become the defining sentiment of progressive liberalism.

  8. A surcharge on the obese would arouse objections from a much larger segment of the population

    Pun intended?

  9. Legalize marijuana and you solve both the tobacco smoking problem and the weight problem.

    Right. Except the two drugs have approximately the opposite mental and short-term physical effects.

    Cocaine is the nearest common illegal analog to nicotine, but marijuana-law reformists are, above all, assholes, and they don’t care if anyone who wants those effects can lawfully get them, as long as they get theirs.

    So swapping the legality of marijuana for the outlaw of tobacco is what will happen, because pot-smoking is currently more popular and less strongly associated with “the lower socioeconomic classes” than nicotine consumption is.


    1. Hey now, we’re not all assholes. I don’t begrudge anybody a nice smooth cancer stick, although I very rarely partake myself.

      But yeah, literally every single argument in favor of marijuana legalization also makes a great argument against a tobacco crackdown.

      1. literally every single argument in favor of marijuana legalization also makes a great argument against a tobacco crackdown.

        Er…except one, that is.

  10. So does this require mandatory government blood tests to identify the smokers who must be surcharged? Does a person have the right to refuse the blood test? Can the state forcibly extract bodily fluids?

    1. They can rape you to get urine, and compel blood tests.

      1. omg. just when I started to think there were reasonable limits…

      2. FTA: “Garner said the police officer did not apologize, but instead charged Lockard with obstruction of justice.”

        Haha, classic.

      3. Jebus. Unbelievable. What makes it worse is that he passed the breathalyzer test, but the cops just wouldn’t let him go.

    2. I don’t know if you were around yesterday, but the State is moving toward presumptive ownership of our fluids and component parts.

    3. hmm. how’d that test come up positive? must have been second hand smoke. you can’t touch me.

  11. Shorter version We at Action on Smoking and Health support regressive taxation.

  12. It’s really isn’t TEAM BLUE’s day, is it. Can any TEAM BLUE dipshits explain why cigarette taxes aren’t regressive and disproportionally affect the poor, the people they supposedly stand up for?

    1. I don’t how it affects the poor more – the taxes would apply to anybody who chooses to buy cigarettes.

      1. Right, and a dollar tax to a poor person is a whole lot more penalizing than a dollar tax to a rich person. Plus poor folks smoke cigarettes at a much higher rate.

      2. Except that 1)smoking strongly correlates (and inversely) correlates with wealth and 2)$1/pack/day is a much bigger chunk of a $28k salary than a $280k salary. Which makes them “regressive” because they do not progress with income, and “disproportionate” because poor people are significantly more likely to smoke.

      3. Poor people (and minorities) have the highest smoking rates in the world.

        Poor people, by definition, have less money than richer, more-likely-to-not-smoke people.

        A $4 dollar tax affects a poor person more than a rich person.

        You are retarded.

        1. Sorry, but a dollar is a dollar no matter who spends it. It’s a flat tax, which libertarians generally prefer, since it does not punish the successful.

          Also, since smoking is a choice, then anybody who buys tobacco is voluntarily choosing to pay the tax. Nobody is forced to pay it.

          1. Percentage of income. Percentage of income. Percentage of income.

            Let’s say poor people, on average, eat more tuna than rich people. If you tax the shit out of tuna, who does it affect more?

            It’s also reprehensible to purposefully tax the poor proportionally more just because it’s easier or more socially acceptable to do so.

            I’d like to think that you understand this, but I’m guessing that your beliefs float around like Kirby, inhaling what’s politically useful to you.

            1. Of course I understand it, I just like to throw right-wing principles back at you guys sometimes.

              1. And we like it when people mistake us for right-wingers.

          2. “Also, since smoking is a choice, then anybody who buys tobacco is voluntarily choosing to pay the tax. Nobody is forced to pay it.”

            And if I want to buy tobacco without paying the tax, then I am being forced to pay the tax. Dan T. FAIL.

      4. The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.
        The Red Lily, 1894, chapter 7

  13. I am actually surprised at their assumption that smoking is more concentrated at lower socio-economic levels than obesity — I would have thought it was the other way round. You only need to see the difference between people at Wal Mart and people in Manhattan to see the link between girth and social class, whereas smoking seems to me to be much more evenly spread throughout the social strata.

    I know lawyers, financiers and doctors (yes, doctors) who smoke, but none who are really fat. I think in professional upper-middle class circles, obesity is more unacceptable than being a smoker.

    1. Classic example is Obama himself: his smoking isn’t problematic in his milieu, but being fat really would be.

      1. I don’t know that I would go so far as to say his smoking is not problematic. How many times have you seen him smoking in public?

        1. You’re right, I exaggerated. Smoking is certainly problematic, but I would maintain that it’s much less problematic in those circles than obesity.

  14. An anti-smoking group, especially one of the vilest around, is philosophically inconsistent and will lie, mispresent, misinform and dissemble to make their point as well intentionally target a weak group, unable to defend itself against their actions, for a shake-down?

    Shocker. Sounds strangely familiar to another organized group.

    1. Sounds strangely familiar to another organized group.

      The tobacco industry?

      1. I was thinking MADD.

      2. You know, if you weren’t just a pretend grief troll, I’d actually respond to your silly point.

    2. Jesse Jackson & the Rainbow Push Coalition?

  15. Of course smokers are villians, that’s why we can’t have the e-cigarette, because you can’t let those dirty people fulfil their dirty little habit without the smoke and cancer.

    Of course now that we are going towards single payer healthcare, I know plenty of people want to make smoking ANYTHING illegal and punish those dirty “free riders”. Then they’ll go after meat eaters.

  16. This whole anti-smoking movement ignores the math about the cost relationship with smokers. The reality is smokers end up costing LESS than healthy people because they die sooner and consume less healthcare resources overall.

    1. Lung cancer is a quick cheap death.

      1. Vanderbilt professor W. Kip Viscusi wrote a book called Smoke Filled Rooms back in 2002 wherein he crunched the numbers behind the actual costs. His results showed that smokers save society 32 cents a pack from a financial standpoint.

        How awesome would it be to see Obama go on TV and ask more poor people to smoke so he could “lower our healthcare costs”?

        1. People act like lung cancer is the only health problem related to smoking.

          1. Professor Viscusi calculated every possible associated cost beyond just lung cancer. The reality is that the shorter people live -surprise!- they cost less to society in terms of healthcare and Social security for that matter.

            1. But don’t those same people contribute less to society as well by being sick or dead instead of being productive?

              1. Jeebus Hasselholf Crizzeist, if you’re going to troll could you at least be entertaining? Or maybe inspire some rage?

                You remind me of those people who are either allergic to everything or have weird self imposed dietary restrictions. You know, you go out to dinner with them and you aren’t angry with them for their pain in the ass whining, rather just annoyed.

                You are the pebble in our collective shoe, bitch.

                1. “You are the pebble in our collective shoe, bitch.” If you are going to bitch, do it with entertainment and rage: you dried up cum, piece of yeasty-smelling discharge bitch.

                  1. All you inspire is ‘meh’, sorry.

                  2. Liberatarians don’t believe in collective shoes.

                    1. Liberatarians don’t believe in collective shoes.
                      reply to this

                      Sure we do, we all buy them there shoes with the check mark on ’em. ‘Cause the guy on teevee told us to, and cause we lurve corparashuns.

              2. But don’t those same people contribute less to society as well by being sick or dead instead of being productive?

                no one contributes less than you Dan T so what’s your point?

                1. Not true, I have a job in the private sector, pay my taxes, give to charity, etc.

                  1. Why aren’t you a public servant who works for free? Why don’t you hand over all your property to the government?

              3. Society does not own my potential, fuckhead. If I choose not to contribute to society as much as I might be able to, that is my business alone.

                1. @Zeb: Fuckin’ A. +1.

              4. Only if you believe that people belong to the state, to be used for its ends, and must contribute as much as possible to the state.

      2. Good idea. We should fill every tenth Big Mac with cyanide to save on health costs.

        1. I have little secret here for you Forrest……..

          ………Big Macs? IT’S MADE OF PEOPLE!!!!!!!

        2. Now, let’s not go overboard, here.

          1. Remember Daddy, you said you’d lose 15 lbs like I asked for my big day! You wouldn’t disappoint Daddy’s Little Girl(TM) on her big day, would you? (big sad soulful eyes)

            1. Shut up and stop being ugly-but-still-hotter-than-me, you little bitch.

              1. Yeah, but I’m the one who has to sleep with her for the rest of my life!

                1. I didn’t get an invitation, but my EBT card gets $200 SNAP credit at midnight woooohoooo!

  17. Sounds pretty reasonable to me dude.


    1. Smartertroll … fail

  18. Likewise, ASH, which heretofore has said smokers should be able to recover damages from cigarette manufacturers because smoking is not a voluntaruly assumed risk, now says smoking can’t be an addiction because it’s a choice.

    This kind of contradiction is quite common in collectivist thinking (these days usually on the left.) The only constant is that they choose a particular argument at a particular time because that argument serves to increase advance their political goals (usually these days, increasing the power of the leftists within the state.)

    In the case of cigarettes, when they want to empower the state by collecting taxes on tobacco, they argue that smoking is choice in which people selfishly choose to destroy their own health and the health of others thus fostering the consequences and cost onto innocent bystanders. However, when they want to shakedown tobacco companies, smokers are suddenly helpless victims of a manufactured chemical that seizes control of their brain and destroys their will.

    You see the same kind of argument in debates over poverty programs. Show a collectivist a poor, non-skilled, functional illiterate and ask them what that person needs they will tell you the person is doomed to life of poverty and being a drag on society unless we “invest” significant amounts of money in the form of all kinds of income support, education and make work jobs for the person. Show a collectivist the exact same person but tell them they are an illegal alien and they will tell you that the person needs no help from the government or society and that they can easily find work and build themselves up a successful middle-class American life on their own all the while not only not being a drag on the rest of us but actively enriching us.

    The only constant is the collectivist assessments of how they spin the poor person’s plight for political gain. Native born poor are exploited to enhance welfare programs and to create a dependent population. Immigrant poor are needed for as poorly educated and potentially alienated vote fodder so they are keen that immigrants not be seen as consuming already thin social services.

    The only constant is the lust for power. The think of every problem in terms of their own power. Once you adopt that perspective, then all their arguments make perfect logical sense.

  19. I would also point out that these types of moral panics have historically always been about the habits of poor people. The people panicking are always upper income people not directly affected by the problem. In all cases, the arguments always end up with the idea that elites should forcibly control the choices of the poor.

    I mean, French cuisine is basically an excuse to inject butter, lard and duck fat into every conceivable food like substances but you don’t see wealthy health activist castigating French restaurants for deceptively luring in hapless rich people by appealing to their snobbery. No, they’re out there lambasting McDonalds for selling hamburgers in neighborhoods the activist wouldn’t be caught dead in. They’re going to benevolently force the poor to choked down rice cakes and lettuce and then the activist are going back home for some nice for foie gras.

    1. The Food Police Went after Starbucks so that blows your theory.

      1. Any chain store is by definition not truly elitist in appeal. Starbucks is gourmet coffee for commoners. Nobody with money visits Starbucks if they have any other choice.

        The real telling factors is that they go after things like high fat food only in the case of food that normal people can afford. They don’t go after high fat food that is prepared in such a way as to be to expensive for most people. The health affects on the individual are, however, identical.

        1. I was gonna say the same thing: since when is Starbucks not the McDonald’s of coffee?

          1. Isn’t McDonald’s the McDonald’s of coffee?

            1. I tried to kill that. McD’s is worse that herpes!

              1. Fuck you and I hope it scorches!

            2. Isn’t McDonald’s the McDonald’s of coffee?

              Haha, ok fair enough. Although I think technically that McCafe shit is the McDonald’s of coffee now.

  20. There’s already a huge surcharge on smokers: ridiculously high cigarette taxes. We need to start complaining about people treating us like niccers. “Dirty niccer!” “No niccers allowed”. “Niccers must sit in the back of the bus.” (hat tip to L. Neil Smith:

  21. I am reminded of a quote: “People are more violently opposed to fur than leather because it’s safer to harass rich women than motorcycle gangs.” — Dave Barry

    1. Hah, Barry is the man.

  22. A surcharge on the obese would arouse objections from a much larger segment of the population

    Oh, now that’s just mean.

  23. Let’s all sit back and contemplate the profound ironies produced by a leftist troll complaining about the negative impacts of people not being productive.

    1. “Let’s all sit back and contemplate the profound ironies produced by a leftist troll complaining about the negative impacts of people not being productive.”…While we are sitting back and not being productive ourselves.

      1. It’s my day off, assmunch

  24. Those shameless motherfuckers. This kind of shit makes me want to start smoking again.

    1. I have to admit that one reason I smoke is to piss off the busybodies. A friend once nagged me with “dont you know each one of those cigarettes takes 7 minutes off your life?” I replied that they take 7 minutes off the part of your life that sucks. It’s not like you lose any time from your 20s or 30s.

      1. do you pay Bill Hicks royalties for that line?

        1. Nah Im not sure where I heard that line first–can’t take credit for it.

        2. do you pay Bill Hicks royalties for that line?

          Be more than Dennis Leary did.

    2. Same here. Nothing makes me want a cigarette more than reading about motherfuckers who want to steal more money from smokers while making their lives even more miserable.

  25. We can’t have people doing what they want, this is the land of the free damn it!

  26. I pay six or seven goddamn dollars A DAY now to cover the supposed “huge costs their choice imposes on the economy and the health care system” (read: to cover my city and state’s complete inability to control its spending on anything and everything). Enough already.

  27. I can’t wait for a black market to really take off. I predict that the outrage against eCigs will lead to many a people actually black marketing those, as they’re easier to manage than tobacco.

    I’m smoking one now, and adore it. Liberals, naturally, want this stopped IMMEDIATELY.

  28. When I get to the end of my labors for the day, and sit down with a frosty adult beverage and spark up a fat, stinky Nicaraguan cigar, 99 times out of a hundred that’s going to be the best thing that happens to me that day. But the nannies and other dickheads out there want to deprive me of that, by taxing it so much I can’t afford to do it anymore, or banning it outright. Some article about smokers’ rights is what first lead me to Reason, a few months ago. Cigarettes are just a tool to get me from one cigar to the next without killing anyone. I have also said, in all seriousness, I would buy my cigarettes from the Mafia, if I knew how.

  29. …The taste of weed should be unadulterated by the ills of tobacco!

    That depends i guess.
    Some canadians i knew preferred hash, which was most often mixed with tobacco in a ‘cig’.
    But then given time, a big sink and an empty 2L bottle….

  30. Rhayader wrote:
    I know people who like to sprinkle coke on grass too.

    AKA a snowcap.

  31. Rhywun wrote
    I pay six or seven goddamn dollars A DAY.

    Steff and Ernie too.

    Go to a good tobacconist or even head shop. Buy a rolling machine, separate filters and bulk tobacco. There are some wonderful papers out there courtesy of the cannabis market. From hemp to ultra thin rice papers to clear cellulose. Then one can play with tobacco blending too.

    1. And that, given the 2173% increase in the tax on rolling tobacco, helps HOW, exactly? (I don’t smoke, but my girlfriend rolls her own, and often bitches about how she regrets voting for Obama now. I just roll my eyes.)

      1. It’s still 1/4 of the cost of pre made, even with the crazy taxes.
        In most cases you’re also no longer supporting the big cig makers who sold smokers out with the MSA, FDA and RIP regulation. Ain’t gonna say it becomes a ‘healthy’ habit, but i honestly think that it can cut the risks … maybe even in half.
        Also there’s a way to avoid even those taxes to a point.

    2. Or, just learn to roll on your own. All it takes is tobacco and papers. I can’t stand filtered cigarettes any more, and I didn’t need to throw away money on filters and fancy machines.

  32. I’m curious as to how you reconcile this post with the war on drugs which is a popular right wing cause. Aren’t the vast majority of drug abusers also poor? Why is targeting smoking, which has a demonstrably negative effect on people exposed to second hand smoke bad whereas targeting drug abuse which usually doesn’t, good?

    1. First time here?

  33. Let’s tax the shit out of everything unhealthy. Because it’s fucking up this country bad!! Obese people should be fined by health insurance companies.Smokers should have to pay 20 bucks a pack and be fined if they smoke around children or jailed if they smoke pregnant.

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