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Tourists and Terrorists

June 02, 1986

George Will usually irritates me more than does a smoke-filled room, which, believe me, amounts to considerable irritation. So I was slightly astonished to find myself agreeing with the point of his "irrational risk-perception" column that American tourists avoiding Europe this year for fear of terrorist attacks only provides the terrorists with an unanticipated victory and encourages further violence.

However, Will attempts to support the argument with analogies that reveal his usually specious and muddle-headed thinking. Claiming that the Chernobyl nuclear plant tragedy created undeserved hysteria, he states that no one has ever died in this country from a nuclear accident, which supposedly makes it safer to live near a nuclear plant than a coal-burning one.

He then opines that the 350,000 smoking-related deaths per year in this country make hypocrites of the newspapers, which editorialize against smoking yet accept tobacco advertising, and that the thousands of accidents and deaths caused by alcohol-impaired drivers should be a concern more worthy of protest.

Well, the last time I checked, the half-life of a burning cigarette was about five minutes, not 22,000 or so years. Furthermore, neither a coal plant explosion nor an accident on the San Diego Freeway will render much of God's green earth permanently uninhabitable.

Someone ought to inform Will that it's not the U.S. nuclear industry's record so far that is troublesome, but rather its clear potential for devastation in the future. To borrow his own flawed logic: No one has ever died from an atomic bomb dropped by the Russians; that doesn't stop us from spending trillions to prevent it from ever happening.

JOEL ENGEL

Santa Monica

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