Current Comment

Blowing Fumes

When stars in films from the 1930s through the 1960s light up, inhale and blow smoke, many cringe. We have witnessed the millions of deaths that resulted from this behavior. We also know that 95 percent of adult smokers began before they were 21 and that the age range from 18 to 21 is the critical period when experimentation can lead to daily use. To keep tobacco out of high schools, tobacco control programs increase prices, ban smoking in public places and restrict advertising. As a result, fewer people become addicted and die of smoking-related illnesses.

As control tightens, as in New York City, where tobacco sales will be limited to those over 21, the marketplace has responded with an allegedly “safe” alternative, the electronic cigarette, a tube that looks like a cigarette but provides a nicotine fix without burning tobacco.


The industry, including top tobacco executives, has lined up celebrity endorsements to market the “benign” e-cigarette, but public health officials fear that making “vaping” acceptable will undo decades of public education. According to a survey conducted in 2011 and 2012, 10 percent of high school students have already tried e-cigarettes, and the rate of experimentation doubled in a year. The manufacturers say “wait for more evidence” before restricting the product, but public health officials know they waited too long for proof that tobacco kills and should not make a similar mistake again.

Moderate Expectations

In an age when one gaffe—posted, tweeted and looped on the relentless 24-hour news cycle—can break a political fortune, reading the 2016 tea leaves is highly speculative business at best. But that has not deterred partisans and pundits from seeing in the results of the two big off-year gubernatorial elections a glimpse into the political future.

In New Jersey, the incumbent Gov. Chris Christie, a pragmatic Republican with bipartisan appeal, won in a solidly blue state, doing well at the polls with women, Latino and African-American voters. His decisive victory is heralded by some as the first step on a march to the White House. Robert David Sullivan, a writer at America’s politics blog, (Un)Conventional Wisdom, is less sure about the notoriously unfiltered governor’s national appeal. Outside of New Jersey, he believes, the governor’s habit of responding angrily to questions he does not like may alienate more conservative voters in primary contests around the country.

In Virginia, the Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe eked out a narrow win by painting his opponent, the Tea Party favorite Ken Cuccinelli, as “too extreme.” Democrats portray Mr. McAuliffe’s triumph as the end of the line for the Tea Party Express, calling Mr. Cuccinelli “the first political casualty of the Republican government shutdown.” Republicans, however, see the closer-than-expected outcome as a referendum on the Affordable Care Act and suggest that with more time Mr. Cuccinelli could have pulled ahead by playing up the health care law’s disastrous roll-out. With the campaigns over, both victors made an appeal to bipartisanship. Given the extreme dysfunction of Washington in recent months, we hope we do not have to wait until 2016 to see Democrats and Republicans working together.

Broken, Not Owned

In Iraq—in a single day this month—a bombing at a food tent killed four pilgrims; a car bomber killed three soldiers at an army outpost; another bomb killed two in a town just south of Baghdad; in Mosul, an explosion at an outdoor market killed two. That makes 11 deaths in a day, a tragic figure but off the previous month’s brutal pace. October was the bloodiest month in Iraq since 2008. A total of 979 civilians were killed, more than 30 a day. Playgrounds and schools, markets and streets were attacked.

More than 5,500 people have been killed since April, when a security crackdown on a Sunni protest initiated this latest escalation of sectarian conflict. This round shows every sign of being the beginning of a long-feared death spiral in Iraq, as the tenuous bonds among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds as “Iraqis” are permanently broken.

It is all very regrettable, of course, but the United States has moved on to more pressing regional concerns—Afghanistan, Syria and Iran. Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq, whose heavy-handedness has contributed much to the crisis, was in Washington seeking new military aid in early November. He may get matériel and intelligence assistance, but Washington appears to have little appetite for any reversal of the 2011 drawdown.

The United States has acknowledged that its abandonment of Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 was a huge strategic error. And in the months before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell warned President George W. Bush, “If you break it, you own it.” But as the internecine violence in Iraq accelerates, do Americans any longer feel an obligation to fix what they broke? “Can it be fixed?” may be a better question. New vistas of possible, toxic outcomes have opened up for Washington pundits. The cantonization of Iraq? A Syria-Iraq caliphate administered by Al Qaeda? The war in Iraq, the adventure without return, now grinds on without us.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Mike Evans
4 years 3 months ago
Can anything be fixed by military interventions? The very invasion itself was not seen as a liberation but a destruction with the loss of civilian lives and infrastructure. It destabilized the entire countries of both Iraq and Afghanistan. Pakistan, Syria and many more middle east countries are joining the ranks of "failed states." To continue to supply these folks with more weapons and military aid only exacerbates the continuing chaos and civil wars.


Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

This week’s top U.S.-Latino Catholic news
J.D. Long-GarcíaMarch 16, 2018
U.S. President Barack Obama presents the Medal of Freedom to Stephen Hawking during a ceremony at the White House in Washington Aug. 12, 2009 (CNS photo/Paul Haring).
There have been great physicists and mathematicians who were also great philosophers. Hawking, unfortunately, was not one of them.
Stephen M. BarrMarch 16, 2018
Pope Francis enters the main gate of the Auschwitz Nazi death camp in Oswiecim, Poland, July 29, 2016 (CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, pool).
Poland’s Catholic primate called anti-Semitism “a moral evil and a sin.”
Catholic News ServiceMarch 16, 2018
It’s taken over a year for us to get our boss, Matt Malone, S.J. on Jesuitical—and we promise it was worth the wait.
Eloise BlondiauMarch 16, 2018