William F. Buckley

There weren't many ways of looking at those X-rays and charts and CT scans. There it is, and you find you are taking in about one-third the air you would be taking in if you had never smoked. One must imagine that to be told you have Lou Gehrig's disease permits a little more human drama than to be told you have emphysema. The Mayo Clinic is not a missionary enterprise, turning out patients with recommitments to holier lives. But let's face it, when six hours later you find yourself relaxed at home watching a close-up of Bette Davis inhaling deeply and even licentiously, it's normal to ask, why is this going on?

The statistics are plain. Every day, approximately 4,500 Americans between the ages of 12 and 17 smoke for the first time. Half of them will smoke regularly from that point forward, which comes down to 800,000 new habitual smokers each year.

Is there nothing to be done? The easiest answer to that question is presumably the correct answer: Nothing. There is the blissful escapist factor: Not every smoker contracts emphysema or lung cancer. And there is the tireless diversionary exercise, drawing attention to Aunt Judie, who just died of lung cancer, had suffered from emphysema, and never had a cigarette in her life. Yes, and such data as these would not be withheld from you at the Mayo Clinic. The Mayo people aren't there to account for scientific anomalies. But a certain strength is imparted to people who expose themselves to the even-temperedness one finds there, the quiet confidence in the correctness of scientific lucidity, the corporate anxiety to show a resourceful concern for human health.

If you found yourself with emphysema, and you woke up emperor of the whole world, with absolute power in all matters of production and consumption, what would you do?

That's simple, of course. Forbid smoking to everyone you care about.

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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