Traffic and Smoking; Both Bad

Fewer
Traffic Lanes and Smoking; Both Bad: We Knew That Already

By

Leonard
Zwelling

       The Christie controversy deepens, but
seems to be hanging on nuance which is always dangerous in political matters.
My experience with politicians has always been that they live in a pretty
nuance-free zone.  Politics is not rocket
surgery and subtlety is not a common feature of political discourse or
activity.

It is widely accepted that the traffic lanes
from Ft. Lee into the George Washington Bridge were closed for four days in
September 2013. These closures tied up automobile flow into upper Manhattan and
probably interfered with emergency vehicle movement as well. Emails seem to
support the idea that this was not caused by a traffic study from which it was
originally purported to result, but rather was a political dirty trick played on
the mayor of Ft. Lee and his constituents because the mayor did not support Mr.
Christie’s re-election as governor. This seems ludicrous on its face, given the
vast lead Christie held in all pre-election polls, but remember what Mr. Nixon
did when running for re-election for President in 1972. Anything is possible in
politics especially if it is overwhelmingly stupid. 

No matter how this turns
out, it won’t be surprising. That politicians are enthralled with power and
will use it to get even for the smallest of perceived slights despite the
deleterious effects their decisions or the actions of their staff members might
have on the people who they were elected to serve is no surprise.

If Christie turns out to be an overweight
Nixon, at least we found out before he got to the White House. If not, I
suspect he is going to have to clean house among his staff.

And on the subject of less than brilliance,
what the heck was Dr. DePinho talking about in his editorial on January 31 in
the Chronicle? People have speculated several ideas to me:

1.              
This was a bone thrown to MD Anderson by the Chronicle
for all the nasty stuff accurately reported by the newspaper since Dr.
DePinho’s ascension.

2.              
This was a bone thrown by Dr. DePinho to get the
Chronicle and its readers in his good graces.

3.              
This was a complimentary or complementary bone thrown to
a much beloved past MD Anderson leader on the 50-year anniversary of one of that
man’s major contributions to American health. (And also on the ocassion of Dr. LeMaistre’s 90th birthday).

4.              
This was just Ron being Ron which means enigmatic with a
firm grip of the obvious. Like a dog with a bone. Over-metaphored yet?  The last one was a bone-us (per Groucho).

Personally, I have no idea what the purpose
of the DePinho op-ed was. As I have already written, there was no ask. There
were no revelations (we all know smoking is bad for you) and there were no
proposed programs for readers to get behind or support with charitable funds or
volunteer time. The Marlboro Moon Shot was left to be revealed in the future.
What did Dr. DePinho want of the legislators he implored “to develop new
restrictions aimed at making cigarette use a thing of the past”. The Congress
claims to have done this in 2009 with legislation on which I worked (the Family
Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act). That bill did nothing of substance
other than have the Democrats patting each other on their backs for sweeping
tobacco regulation under the FDA. This is the agency that does such a poor job
at regulating drugs and medical devices so let’s give it more to do badly.
Congress, in its infinite wisdom, reserved the right to ban the most toxic
legal substance known to man for itself. That makes sense because if the FDA regulated tobacco as it does new drugs, it would not let it on the market due to its profound adverse effects when used as designed. Obviously, Senator Enzi’s Health,
Education, Labor and Pensions office was opposed to this bill. We lost. It
passed. So what!

Restating the obvious in bold headlines is
still restating the obvious. Alerting the public to the behavior of vengeful
and crooked politicians and to the dangers of smoking is hardly newsworthy, let alone comment worthy.
What both the cancer fearing public and people who depend upon government
oversight of transportation would like is some solutions. Instead, what they
see is the Supreme Court welcoming more and more big money into the political
process, the mainstreaming of extremism in both major political parties and the
leaders of academic medicine and medicine as a whole retreating into their
foxholes of privilege instead of joining the battle for patients’ rights. (The
MDs were MIA or AWOL in the battle over the ACA).

The traffic lane closures in New Jersey,
whether Christie ordered them or not, are a black mark on his administration.
He needs to come absolutely clean about what he knew and when he knew it and if
he is in truth innocent of wrongdoing, root out those who aren’t and fire them
in a very public repudiation of bad behavior.

Likewise, if MD Anderson is really concerned
about reducing the toll tobacco takes on the public’s health, a perfectly
worthy goal, pour money (like a small diversion from the millions in the IACS
budget) into school programs to educate kids not to start tobacco use and to be
messengers to their own parents to stop smoking just as my son Richard was 25
years ago when he demanded that our family recycle. We thought he was nuts to
save all that garbage, load it into our van, carry it to the recycling center
and reap 35 cents for the trouble. He wasn’t. He was right and he changed our
behavior. As usual with Richard, he was way ahead of the rest of us (he liked
Cyndi Lauper when he was just 3 and she just wanted to have fun).

If Dr. DePinho wants to make a credible
argument for MD Anderson’s role in the welfare of the Houston community he can
do that. He just hasn’t yet.

Don’t tell me what I know. Dazzle me! Maybe
this “End Tobacco” Moon Shot to which he alluded will be more down to earth and
actually show real results in our lifetimes. Maybe.

       

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