Choke On This

You fitness professionals should be ashamed of yourselves. Don't you know that by helping people get into better shape you could be costing our government millions of dollars?

You should learn a lesson from the good folks at Philip Morris. The fine humanitarians at the tobacco company recently commissioned a study examining the cost of smoking for the Czech Republic in 1999. According to an Associated Press (AP) article, the study concluded that the government benefited from the “indirect positive effects” of early deaths.

Sure, smoking did drain some money from the Czech government. The study took into account the lost work days and high health care costs associated with smoking. Also, dead smokers didn't pay income taxes. Quite a drawback.

However, Philip Morris — wanting to disprove a Czech Health Ministry report indicating that smoking created a financial burden for the government — wasn't about to focus on the negatives. In fact, the company's study revealed that cigarette taxes and custom duties helped the Czech Republic earn millions. And here's the best revelation: As elderly smokers succumbed to their habits, the government saved $30 million on health care, pensions and housing.

“Our principal finding is that the negative financial effects of smoking — such as increased health care costs — are more than offset by positive effects…,” the report stated.

Naturally, anti-tobacco groups criticized the study. John Connolly, public affairs manager for Action on Smoking and Health, said that the study is “repellent and should be dismissed.” Matthew Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, described the study as “bad economics” and a “callous disregard for life.”

Geez, what a bunch of crybabies. Just because Philip Morris makes 80 percent of the cigarettes sold in the Czech Republic doesn't mean that the company had an ulterior motive, does it? I'm sure that Philip Morris had everyone's best interests in mind.

Still, ever magnanimous, Philip Morris did issue an apology. “We deeply regret any impression that premature death of smokers could represent a benefit for society,” Remi Calvert, the director of communications for Philip Morris' European headquarters, told the AP.

Personally, I salute Philip Morris for devaluing human life, an expensive scourge for many a nation. And I encourage the company to expand its research. I mean, why stop with the Czech Republic? Heck, why stop with smoking? Think about it: Smoking, poor nutrition and inactivity are preventable health risks that lead to deadly diseases. So let's promote them worldwide. Granted, billions will die, but consider the cash savings!

Naturally, health clubs will have to go. Exercise counters the health risks that decent companies like Philip Morris hope to foster. So shut down your club — or at least start selling tobacco products in your pro shop.

Enough sarcasm. I think I made my point. And I hope I made you angry, angry enough to take action.

If corporations and governments want to put a price on human life, then demonstrate the value of fitness — from every conceivable angle. Research shows that exercise not only improves health, it lowers health care costs and increases productivity in the workplace. Put another way, exercise delivers a financial benefit.

You have the power to prove that exercise saves lives — and money. Use it, and fight those who cheapen life by arguing that it's too expensive.

Best regards,

Jerry Janda