Decades of lecturing around America and of speaking with parents on my radio show have led me to an incredible conclusion: More American parents would be upset with their teenage children if they smoked a cigarette than if they cheated on a test.
How has this come about? This is, after all, an entirely new phenomenon. Almost no member of my generation (those who became teenagers in the 1960s), let alone a member of any previous generation, could ever have imagined that parents would be angrier with their teenage child for smoking than for cheating.
There has been a profound change in American values. In a nutshell, health has overtaken morality. Or, if you prefer, health has become our morality.
The war against tobacco is both a cause and a symptom of this moral confusion. It has saturated American society with the belief that smoking is wrong, even immoral, not simply unhealthy.
Anti-smoking zealots (the term is redundant) in the California Department of Health Services launched a statewide billboard campaign equating cigarettes with drugs. Parents call my show to tell me that when their children see someone smoking, they say, "Look, that person is using drugs!"
Judges in child custody disputes have imbibed the moral idiocy that smoking tells us something about a person's character. An increasing number of judges take smoking into consideration when choosing which parent is more fit to raise a child. Millions of Americans agree with these judges that smoking is a moral flaw. That is one reason the government airbrushes cigarettes out of pictures of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and other famous Americans. If a young American were to see President Roosevelt smoking a cigarette or Sir Winston Churchill smoking a cigar, what might happen to that child's wholehearted acceptance of the smoking-is-bad (not merely unhealthy) brainwash?
I smoke a pipe and cigar, and I am amazed at the certitude and chutzpah in the 5-year-olds who have visited my home who confidently walked over to me to tell me I shouldn't smoke! Had they seen me drinking alcohol, as children regularly see adults do, it would never occur to them to say such a thing.
That we have a war against tobacco rather than alcohol well illustrates the moral confusion of our time. Eighty years ago, when American society warred against a vice, it was alcohol -- because the society cared more about fighting evil than fighting potential dangers to health. Alcohol leads to more child and spousal abuse as well as to murder and rape than any other single factor. Was one child ever abused because a cigarette or pipe dulled an adult's conscience? Have any drivers ever killed whole families because they smoked before they drove?
Dennis Prager is a SRN radio show host, contributing columnist for Townhall.com and author of his newest book, “The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code.”