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Cigarette Smoking

December 20, 1985

James M. Galbraith (Editorial Pages, Dec. 8) did a good job of summarizing the issues regarding liability of tobacco companies, and producers of other harmful consumer products. However, there is an underlying assumption that he does not deal with and it is of crucial importance.

That assumption is that tobacco and alcohol products should rightly be thought of in the same way as other products that also present potential hazards. But comparing these two and the dangers they represent to the dangers of cholesterol in food is not only inaccurate but is itself a hazard to the health of consumers.

The comparison does not hold because alcohol and tobacco (nicotine) are highly addictive substances. We do not hear arguments for First Amendment protection of advertising of heroin or cocaine, because we recognize that the dangers of these substances make this argument irrelevant. In fact, many physicians now believe that nicotine is a more highly addictive substance than heroin, and the addiction is harder to break.

The wide availability, low cost, and inescapable advertising associated with alcohol and tobacco products make them a particular danger to the young, for whom warning messages in small print will not dent the typical adolescent sense of invulnerability. Protection is necessary through such means as strict advertising controls and product-liability decisions.

The situation must be properly described: the "freedom" to peddle addictive substances leads to addiction, illness and death. Corporate practices such as the continuing denial of a relationship between tobacco and cancer and heart disease, or the employment of campus representatives by beer companies at schools where the majority of students are under the legal drinking age, makes clear that we cannot expect responsible action from these companies.

Alcohol- and tobacco-liability issues should rightly be dealt with in a different context than issues involving other products. The First Amendment presumes the ability to freely choose; addiction robs the individual of that ability. The old adage that freedom entails responsibility needs to be enforced on the producers of these products, since they are clearly unwilling to accept responsibility on their own.

RICHARD C. BURHENNE

Canoga Park

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