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A Loved One Dies Leaving Questions About Tobacco and the Law

Tony Chase, 71, had long struggled against emphysema and other cardiopulmonary problems. He was a smoker for many years.

August 20, 2000|STEVE SPRINKEL | Steve Sprinkel is an organic farmer and journalist who lives in Ojai

On Aug. 13, 71-year-old Tony Chase died at the Ventura hillside home of his daughter Sheila Williams after a prolonged and tortured struggle against emphysema and other cardiopulmonary deficiencies brought on by smoking tobacco cigarettes. Chase smoked from his teens until the time his lung disease was diagnosed in 1985.

For the past few years, Chase had resolutely lugged around an oxygen tank with delivery tubes affixed to his nostrils, the tedious badge of self-inflicted infirmity appearing to hinder him little until the Friday previous to his passing, when at a birthday party for Williams and her twin, Cathy Bautista, he wearily gasped that "this will be the last time I go out to dinner." In so saying, he also seemed to make up his mind that a normal life was no longer available to him, thus over the weekend he died. From rest to sleep to coma, without complaint or much drama until he breathed his last, another victim was cut down by our most vexing vice.

The shame of it was that Tony Chase had a lot to say, and people listened to him. He gave good counsel. He had a dry and eager wit to match his braininess. He told a good story and the bitter paradox was that he could say very little eventually because his lungs were ruined and he had no real power to speak.

Ever alert mentally and gracious within his suffering, Tony Chase pushed his withering frail body for as long as life could be enjoyed. He had his own standards to live up to, as always. This life was not so outstanding, except to those who knew him.

As a friend of the family, I made a number of calls to relatives and friends to advise them of Tony Chase's death, and I was told by many of these strangers about his devotion to friends, his gusto for life, his expertise in business as a contract administrator for Teledyne Technologies, Boeing Co. and Litton Industries, and the shameless bragging he did over his four daughters and one son.

These offspring, like their father, tend to be exceptional members of the human race without celebrity or fame. However, these decent people--two teachers, a nurse, a cook and a professor--in the long hours immediately after his death, spoke with eloquence and conviction about tobacco's part in this tragedy:

"Why do these stores still sell cigarettes?" (a brilliant naivete).


"When a lunatic contaminates a bottle of aspirin, the manufacturer clears the shelves nationwide to save a few lives. And yet millions of packs of these things are pushed over the counter every day as if they were as harmless as a candy bar. Why don't the retailers have any complicity and responsibility for the harm they cause?"

"As if we needed the [Food and Drug Administration] to tell us or some court that tobacco is a drug and should be regulated. Regulated? Like pesticides are regulated? Or how gasoline additives are regulated? These are mostly industrial mistakes that eventually get corrected. It's been 35 years since the first surgeon general's report, and that is just meaningless ancient history. The whole country woke up to the fact that tobacco was poison, and then the government agreed, as if that was all that was required."

"Look at this advertisement. There is no cigarette in the picture except the very end of the filter. And look at the model, who 'makes up her own mind.' What sort of independence is addiction? What kind of beauty courts its own death?"

"Why have we bent over backward to appease tobacco farmers all these years when the government aggressively pursues and imprisons people for growing other things, like marijuana? We know less about the thing that is prohibited, and have known for years about the evils of the thing that is allowed. This is just cowardly."

"The tobacco companies sell you something that will keep you alive just long enough for them to profit from, until a new generation of addicts lights up. I see no end to this, really. I thought we would do away with tobacco 20 years ago but I won't be surprised to see things just as they are today in another 20 years."

"It's just suicide in slow-motion."

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