The number of Americans who smoke cigarettes has been declining over the last 40 years, which adds up to a major achievement in preventive health. Fewer young people are taking up the habit and more adults have quit. A report published last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that three million fewer Americans smoked in 2010 than in 2005—that is more than the entire population of Chicago. And while heavy smokers (30 or more cigarettes a day) keep puffing, their number has declined significantly. But the C.D.C. issued a note of caution concerning the rate of decline among smokers, which has slowed. Unless the rate speeds up again, the country will fall short of the C.D.C.’s national goal of no more than 12 percent of adults smoking by 2020.
Can legislation help reduce smoking? Consider this: In the eight years since New York City banned smoking in bars, restaurants and the workplace, the number of adult smokers has fallen by 22 percent; that is 450,000 fewer smokers. The drop is more impressive among young adults between 18 and 24, a group particularly affected by the city’s tax hike on cigarettes and its anti-smoking advertising campaigns. States have also had success. Utah has the lowest smoking rate in the nation (9.1 percent); California (12.1 percent) is in second place. Some point to the price of a pack of cigarettes in New York City, $11.20, as the reason for the declining number of smokers. But a pack costs just $7.22 in Utah, and $5.19 in California. What all three places have in common is a statewide ban on smoking in public places. The law can help reduce smoking.
Catechesis or Theology?
Will there be a stand-off between bishops and theologians on the role of theology in Catholic higher education as we mark the 20th anniversary of “Ex Corde Ecclesiae”? (See the articles by Michael G. Lawler and Todd A. Salzman, 9/12, and by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, 9/26.) We hope not. Both have a case to make, and an intelligent way forward needs to be found. Students need to know the fundamentals of the faith to be able to treat theological issues critically; and not just theology but Catholicism itself will not be respected within the university if it lacks intellectual depth. A way must be found to achieve both goals: catechesis and theology. In many Catholic colleges, however, there is simply not enough space in curricula both to lay the groundwork in Catholic tradition and to study theology with suitable seriousness. Often no more than two theology courses are required.
For college-level theology to achieve its twin goals, it simply needs more space in the curriculum. Traditionally, some of that curricular space was given to philosophy. But that was before career-training put such pressures on liberal education. It was also a time when philosophy had an apologetic role in Catholic intellectual life and played a greater part in theological reasoning. Catholic students might acquire greater theological literacy if one additional required course was opened up for theology or, in some cases, switched from philosophy to theology. But administrators will have to take the lead in opening up the curriculum. Bishops should not expect theologians to lead the change from their small corner of the faculty; neither can other departments be expected to give ground without a fight. A Catholic education in Catholic institutions must depend on leadership from the top, from deans, provosts and presidents.
Switch and Bait
“Corn sugar” may soon be showing up in the list of ingredients in fine print on the label of your favorite soft drink, “healthy” fruit-like snack, cereal box and thousands of other food products. This sweetener is better known by its previous moniker: high-fructose corn syrup. Since the late 1970s high-fructose corn syrup has been replacing sugar as the sweetener of choice for profit-minded food conglomerates. But in recent years, corn syrup has begun to get a bad name. Some nutritionists and scientists believe corn syrup has contributed to the nation’s diabetes and obesity epidemics; and many consumers, alarmed by this association, have begun to seek out products that use real sugar, not the syrup. Hence the desire of corn refiners to replace the term H.F.C.S. with “corn sugar.”
The Corn Refiners Association—among its members are the powerful conglomerates Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill—has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration for the name change. It claims the rebranding should resolve consumer confusion regarding corn syrup. In fact consumer confusion is precisely what the corn industry seeks. Few consumers aware of the dangers of a diet too rich in H.F.C.S. are confused at all; they know they do not want it in their food.
A final determination has not been made, but the F.D.A. should dismiss this disingenuous appeal. The nation has had a hard enough time confronting the alarming health problems emerging out of the “normal” American diet. Disguising one of the prime suspects in the crisis behind a new identity will further frustrate efforts to help Americans eat better, stay healthier and live longer.