How Tobacco Took the Rap for Dioxin and Radiation - by Mark E. Smith
Along with most of the other longterm smokers in my senior building, I do not believe that smoking is responsible for the cancer epidemic, but most people in the USA would not agree. There is a general concensus that smoking is to blame for cancer and smoking has been banned in bars, restaurants, parks, beaches, at bus stops, and in some cities smoking has been banned entirely. Some apartment buildings don’t allow renters to smoke in their apartments. Yet most of the people I know who are hooked up to oxygen tanks are nonsmokers and some are never-smokers.
Those of us who have been smoking cigarettes for fifty years or more and are cancer free and have healthy lungs, are considered anomalies--perhaps we have some sort of genetic resistance. Those who develop cancer in childhood who never smoked, whose parents never smoked, and who have never been around smokers, are said to have gotten cancer from second- or third-hand smoke, perhaps carried on the clothes of a neighbor who went to the same school, used the same library, or shopped at the same store.
Completely overlooked or ignored is the fact that the US conducted many above-ground nuclear tests and is still inundated with daily “routine radioactive releases” from nuclear power plants, nuclear aircraft carriers and submarines, and nuclear weapons factories and waste storage sites. Also ignored is the fact that the US dumped almost 50 times as much Agent Orange on US soil as it dumped on Viet Nam. Two poisons for which no safe exposure level can be determined, are radiation and dioxin, the latter being a contaminant of Agent Orange and other herbicides. How is it that our cancer epidemic is blamed on cigarettes, which are much less common and carcinogenic than dioxin and radiation?
The answer traces back to two primary sources, among others, namely Dr. Alton Ochsner and the Dow Chemical Company, a major manufacturer of Agent Orange.
Ochsner was one of the most respected surgeons in the world, who operated on Presidents, Kings and Queens, and wealthy people who came from all over the world, and was the head of the American Heart Association. He was also an arrogant, ignorant bastard. When the polio vaccine was first developed, Ochsner wanted to ensure that every child in the US was vaccinated, so he arranged to have his grandchildren vaccinated as an example, to prove to the public that the vaccine was safe. He was so certain that the vaccine was safe that he didn’t bother to test it. His grandaughter developed polio from the vaccine, but survived. His grandson got polio from the vaccine and died. The vaccine was recalled and a safer version was developed. If Ochner had had his way, every child in the US would have gotten polio from an unsafe vaccine and it is likely that at least half would have died.
Ochner was also the first one to announce that cigarettes caused cancer.
Dow Chemical knew that dioxin was highly toxic and dangerous to humans, but had the money to pay off litigants to avoid a court decision. Later, Dow stopped manufacturing some herbicides, but continued to produce many products containing dioxin. In addition to the dioxin that was sprayed “in American forests, along railroads, highways, and transmission lines, and on farms, rangelands, lawns, and golf courses”* dioxin is in most plastics, along with many "everyday consumer products such as diapers, sanitary napkins, tampons, paper plates, toilet paper, coffee filters, and office copy paper"* and has permeated our global “air, water, food, blood, body fat, breast milk, placenta, and DNA."* It is everywhere and it doesn’t go away.
The nuclear industry began as a necessity to justify and supply the large scale production of nuclear bombs. As no way to safely dispose of high-level radioactive waste has ever been found, it is left in storage pools and containers where it eventually leaks into the atmosphere and the watershed. The US also disposes of nuclear waste by using it in weapons against enemies, and to “treat” cancer patients, as both enemies and cancer patients are expected to die anyway. Many of our own troops have also been contaminated, but military troops are considered expendable. So are civilians. Dow Chemical was a major supplier to the US military, providing napalm, Agent Orange, and many other dioxin laden products. The military-industrial complex relied on both nuclear production and toxic chemicals, so neither could be allowed to take the blame for our cancer epidemic. Instead it was the tobacco companies who took the fall and anti-smoking hysteria swept the country.
Millions of people quit smoking and millions of nonsmokers avoided being in places where there was tobacco smoke. But the cancer epidemic didn’t go away. And it wouldn’t go away even if there was no tobacco left on earth and nobody ever smoked. That’s because even infants are born with dioxin in their tiny bodies and are then exposed to continuing radiation from Chernobyl, which was never completely contained, and Fukushima, which nobody knows how to go about containing.
I’ve been smoking a pack a day for 57 years. But for many years I was fortunate enough to live in remote places in third world countries that hadn’t been sprayed with herbicides and weren’t located near nuclear facilities. Now my luck has run out and I’m living in a major US city with both nuclear and man-made chemical pollutants, so I consider smoking to be one of the least of my problems. Man-made chemical carcinogens like dioxin are in our food, clothing, furniture, carpets, and cars. Radionuclides are in our tap water, our air, our soil, and our oceans. None of them can be cleaned up or safely disposed of. We and our planet have become collateral damage in the fight for short term military and industrial profits.
We can’t change things by voting because the overwhelming majority of politicians own stock in the big military and industrial polluters, as do high level judges and federal regulators. Often the heads of polluting industries are also the heads of the federal agencies which were supposed to regulate them. And as for protests, the polluters and politicians with trillions of dollars in military and industrial profits at stake have protected themselves by arming even local police forces with military weapons and training sufficient to quash protests ten times the size of any we’ve yet seen.
In other words, we’re fucked.
*All quotes are from the book Trespass Against Us: Dow Chemical & The Toxic Century, by Jack Doyle, Copyright 2004 Environmental Health Fund, published by Common Courage Press.
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