You Won't Believe What Pence Said About Cigarettes

by Chris Tognotti

On Friday, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump made it official: Indiana governor Mike Pence will be his running mate, leaving the controversy-riddled other contenders out in the cold. Sorry, Newt and Chris! But it's not as though Trump is in the clear, because his new number two has his own liabilities. For example, Mike Pence's past stance on tobacco is almost hard to believe. The governor once wrote that "smoking doesn't kill," and that the bad press surrounding tobacco was "hysteria."

Yes, it's sad but true. As BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski highlighted on Thursday, when news of Pence's selection first broke, as a congressional candidate back in 2000, Pence had some pretty controversial ideas, and also had the foolhardiness to put them on a website. Who knew that stuff you put online could stick around, huh? Pence was an up-and-coming politico who accepted campaign donations from big tobacco. He also wrote a short, incendiary op-ed titled "The Great American Smoke Out," which insisted that "smoking doesn't kill," while conceding that it is "not good for you." Here's the key excerpt:

Time for a quick reality check. 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. This is not to say that smoking is good for you.... news flash: smoking is not good for you. If you are reading this article through the blue haze of cigarette smoke you should quit. The relevant question is, what is more harmful to the nation, second hand smoke or back handed big government disguised in do-gooder healthcare rhetoric.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

If you sense a contradiction here, you're not alone. So, smoking's not safe, but it doesn't kill? Two out of every three smokers don't die from a smoking-related illness, so ... it doesn't kill?

For the record, the CDC says that more than 480,000 smoking-related deaths take place every year in the United States, both men and women have a three times greater rate of overall mortality if they smoke, and smokers die 10 years earlier than nonsmokers on average. It's not a matter of debate or confusion. The science is in, and it was in back in 2000. Smoking can and does kill, however long or little it takes, and considering how many Americans still smoke, cigarettes will be responsible for many more deaths in the future.

Pence was primarily arguing against government regulation. But considering that the "do-gooder healthcare rhetoric" he talked about led to arguably the most successful public health initiative in U.S. history, that should probably give you pause. Given that cigarettes actually are highly unsafe, and dramatically increase risk of premature death through ailments like lung cancer, respiratory disease, and heart failure, the fact that a staggering 42 percent of American adults were doing it in 1965 was a really big problem.

But through decades of informing the public, progressively banning cigarettes from shared public areas and confined spaces (you used to be able to smoke on planes -- just think about that), and yes, taxing the hell out of them, that number has been more than cut in half in the span of a few generations.

In 1999, just one year before Pence wrote his op-ed, CDC numbers indicated that 23.5 percent of adults and 34.8 percent of high schoolers were smoking tobacco. In 2013, those numbers were at just 15.7 percent and 17.8 percent, respectively. Not bad, huh? It's almost as if efficacy doesn't enter into it for Pence. And that could be a pretty big warning sign about how he'd balance grievous public health concerns against the interests of powerful industries, or how he'd act in any circumstance in which government action might be required.

Also, it's such a bizarre and inane thing to write. Smoking doesn't kill — it only kills one-third of smokers! Suffice to say, Pence and his new boss could be in for a rough few months of questioning.