- REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Mike Pence, the vice president of the United States, has said he doesn’t believe smoking kills people.
He made that case in an op-ed article published in 2000 and has made no public effort to update his position since.
“Time for a quick reality check,” Pence wrote. “Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill. In fact, 2 out of every three smokers does not die from a smoking related illness and 9 out of ten smokers do not contract lung cancer.”
Those statistics are questionable to the point of being ludicrous, largely because we keep discovering new ways that smoking is deadly. Those statistics would still be worrisome, however. About 40 million people smoke in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One out of every three current smokers dying from a smoking-related illness would therefore translate to about 13.3 million people dead. One out of 10 smokers developing lung cancer means 4 million sick people.
Here are the facts
- Smoking kills 480,000 people every year and shortens the life of an average user by a decade. That makes it the leading cause of preventable death in the US. The pain is felt particularly sharply in poor communities; 26.3% of people who live below the poverty level smoke. Encouraging people to quit smoking is a public-health priority. Smokers who quit before turning 40 can begin to turn around their risks of early death.
Pence added the caveat “news flash: smoking is not good for you,” which further raises the question of why he felt the need to write a piece in the first place downplaying tobacco’s dangers.
To be clear: The year 2000 was a while ago, but it also came 36 years after Surgeon General Luther Terry published his 1964 reports on the link between smoking and cancer.
Pence was selected to be a stable, mainstream running mate for Donald Trump, and to settle the nerves of the Republican Party – apparently despite Trump’s expressed wishes. Now he’s just one of the many reasons people who care about science and health are terrified of Trump’s presidency.