Archive for November, 2014

Raise smoking age to 21, save lives and money

Here’s an interesting debate that I would love to see played out in Florida.

In their desire to save lives and improve health, some communities elsewhere have raised to 21 the minimum age for anyone to buy tobacco. It’s led to a reduction in teenage smoking, although some folks worry that it’s another case of the Nanny State run amok.

Tobacco is one of those slippery slopes that can be tricky to navigate for liberals and conservatives alike.

Conservatives want to let folks smoke if they wish — provided we don’t have to pay for their almost-inevitable medical bills. And liberals want to protect us from ourselves, second-hand smoke and other people’s health care costs, and so what if you lose a bit of personal freedom to do something stupid.

Imagine if tobacco had just been created in 2014 and people were about to begin smoking. Today’s scientists would have soon detected the poisonous effects and called for a ban on tobacco, and most Americans would readily agree to bar a product that, as they say, kills you when used legally.

But the cow is out of the barn on that issue, and about 19.3 percent of adult Floridians today use tobacco, according to, which has a state-by-state comparison.

Kentucky is the weediest of all states, with 29 percent smokers, while Utah is a mere 11.8 percent.

Of course, Utah has issues of its own, what with its attitudes toward social issues. We now know that the beard is officially dead among hipsters; Brigham Young University is considering a rule change that would allow its students to wear beards.

Beards, but not mustaches, have been banned on campus since the 1970s lest people think BYU was one of those radical hippie college campuses where students protested against war and in favor of equal rights for women and minorities and other craziness.

There are many good reasons to raise the age to 21 for people to buy cigarettes. It’s a legitimate health issue. Remember the wave of teen drunkenness that swept states when they lowered the drinking age to 18, only to raise it back to 21? Many young people aren’t any better equipped to handle cigarettes than they handle alcohol.

It would force communities to debate health issues and focus on a behavior that costs society many billions of dollars each year. Figure out the cost of a pack-a-day habit from age 18 to age 55, for example, and you will be amazed how much more wealth a nonsmoker enjoys than smoker. A pack was $7.13 today at my local Circle K.

Even if communities don’t care about health, they should care about the dollars and cents of smoking. In the Greater Pensacola area alone (Escambia and Santa Rosa counties), there are more than 98,000 smokers. The cost to employers from those employed smokers exceeds $490 million in the two counties each year, according to Partnership for a Healthy Community, which is leading a tobacco-cessation effort.

That’s a lot of money going up in smoke.

Mark O’Brien is a writer in Pensacola. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Cheer up, Florida, other states have problems, too

On a chilly Florida day, there’s nothing like catching up on the last few issues of “Government Executive,” which bills itself as “the premier website for federal managers and executives.”

It’s not as dry as you think, especially in its “State and Local” section. And it’s a morale-booster for those of us worn down by Florida’s national reputation for dumb people doing dumb things.

Here’s the latest from Pennsylvania, where four workers in the state attorney general’s office have been fired and 11 others suspended without pay for involvement in the email exchanges of pornography.

Yes, that’s the state ATTORNEY GENERAL’s office.

What don’t these guys get? Work is supposed to be a porn-free zone, and don’t tell me all you guys were on the job doing “research” into the porn industry.

Yet they’re hardly alone: A state Supreme Court justice and a member of Pennsylvania’s cabinet already have resigned as a result of this scandal.

See, you’re already feeling better about Florida.

Also, our current brushes with cold weather are trifles compared with stuff happening elsewhere, Government Executive tells us.

In Portland, Ore., local government crews spent nine hours putting chains on buses because a major snowstorm was expected. Hardly any snow arrived, but the chains on the buses dinged up the roadways.

They should have hired the city manager of Marquette, Mich., who was featured a few days earlier for his city’s ability to plow snow. Up to 3.5 feet of snow fell one day recently, yet the city had 100 miles of streets clean and passable within four hours.

See, there is good news out there, and I exaggerate when I mock this publication. In fact, it’s a very good source of even-handed reporting on issues that are important to many governments. Florida leaders probably could find some solutions for their communities’ problems by reading “Government Executive.”

Still, there’s always a chuckle to be had somewhere. Like the article about the 3,323-foot tunnel being built under a lake near Dallas. The tunnel will carry up to 120 million gallons of sewage per day. Now that’s a Texas-sized sewerage system.

And while Florida’s governor won’t even let us say if we want the Affordable Health Care Act, people in Idaho had a different problem. Their state allowed them the choice to sign up — and 76,000 people did, an unusually high percentage.

Yet Idaho couldn’t get its own exchange up and running, so the Idaho residents had to make do with the federal system that had such a horrible rollout last fall.

At least Gov. Rick Scott has spared us that indignity which, ahem, involved some less than “premier” federal managers and executives.

Mark O’Brien is a writer in Pensacola. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

3 Ps to give you a new ride

The pickup truck isn’t what it used to be. Trucks used to be used for work, but now eight out of 10 trucks fly past with beds empty, their liner unsullied by dirt except maybe from errands once a year. Otherwise, the typical truck bed is saying, “Hey, look at me, I do nothing!”

Dogs already went that way.

“Working dogs” in the South earned their keep by hunting animals, guarding property and biting nosy Yankees. Today’s dogs, however, sit inside in climate-controlled temperatures, chowing down on designer dog food and scowling at dogs they see on television.

The world has changed, but many folks still want to drive pickup trucks, even though they guzzle gas, take up too much space and decrease visibility for other motorists.

That’s why I am working on a new idea: Convince the good ol’ boys and girls to buy a Prius or other gas-sipping hybrid that gets 40-plus miles per gallon.

I make this proposal from the bottom of my heart. You see, I too drive a truck, so I am one of the many modern men who wants to pilot a manly machine but please, no heavy lifting lest I get calluses.

This idea offers the best of both worlds — economy plus style.

We can modify the Prius so drivers feel like they’re still in a truck. Put a gun rack in the back window of the Prius, leopard skin covering on the steering wheel, and plenty of space on the bumper for faded “Mc- Cain-Palin” stickers.

Hybrids are also very quiet, which is heresy to a pickup person. There’s nothing like the deep grumble of an exhaust system to tell the little lady I’m home for dinner.

We can adapt the sound system to emit a throaty vroom vroom to let everyone know your truck is within a five-mile radius. This is the essence of the modern pickup — lots of bark, little work.

You’re probably saying, “Mark, this is just another one of your daffy ideas,” but I’m simply a man ahead of the times. Let’s be patient with this idea and my other inspirations, too.

• People inevitably will adopt my idea of butt transplants. For many women of a certain age, their derrieres expand significantly. Men, meanwhile, lose their seat, so to speak. So let the doctors whittle a pound or two from her and attach it to him.

• It’s a cinch that men will flock to my Wing Dog store.

That’s where I will rent dogs to men who otherwise can’t get women to talk to them. Once they’re equipped with one of our cuddly wing dogs, the men will have plenty of opportunity to talk with women. (And my dogs will be all-American. No German shepherds, French poodles or Mexican hairless dogs will be taking work away from American wing dogs!)

Back to the Prius pickup truck, which is the proverbial win-win: gas economy, pickup truck style. We take the basic Prius, a bland lump of nerdness, and make it sound and look like a pickup, all while it delivers 40 miles per gallon.

Pensacola Prius Pickup, coming to Car City real soon.


Published in Splash magazine, November 2015