Koop: 'Real terrorists' in tobacco industry

by Elise Dunphe | 5/2/03 5:00am

Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop '37 does not discriminate between drug lords and executives of tobacco companies when it comes to fostering the disease of addiction.

He called the tobacco companies "the largest concentration of evil masquerading as big business on this planet," and said that they are equally evil as the dealers of illicit drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

"In my opinion, they are all evil," Koop said. "I would spend the rest of my life bringing them to their knees. These are the real terrorists."

Koop has been fighting to end smoking for almost 25 years. An anti-tobacco campaign was the cornerstone of his work during his time as Surgeon General.

Koop spoke yesterday on the general subject of addiction as a starting point for further dialogue on the subject in the Hanover area, including a town meeting that will take place at Hanover High School on May 6.

He called for compassion for those people who are addicted, whether it be to tobacco, alcohol or illegal substances, and for easier access to treatment for these addictions. He expressed hope that public health would step up to the need of both preventing and treating addiction.

"Addiction should be treated with the notion that it is a public health problem," he said. "Why haven't we ever had a drug czar that ever understood the burden of legal drugs like tobacco and alcohol?"

Easy procurement of addictive substances is a driving force leading to the statistics that directly correlate illness and mortality to the consumption of those products, he said.

"It's very easy to purchase addicting drugs, but not very easy to get treatment," he said, recalling a man who was able to purchase cocaine within 20 minutes of arriving in Denver.

Koop compared the public's view of addiction to the view of AIDS in the 1980s -- it was at first viewed as a problem limited to a specific social group that did not deserve compassion or help because victims had brought their problem on themselves -- but echoed Ronald Reagan in saying that we are now fighting the disease, not those who have it.

The tobacco companies target children and adolescents, Koop said, adding that addiction during adolescence is not the same as choosing to abuse your body as an adult.

"Adolescents are like congressmen -- they know very little about addiction."