Cars Are the New Smoking

2012-07-05T13:50:00+00:00 Links|

I don’t smoke. Smoking is a disgusting, life sucking, and expensive habit. I don’t own a car either. I must admit to having the same disdain for most drivers as I do for smokers. I feel particularly loathsome towards the drivers of larger gas-guzzling trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs).

I recently linked my abhorrence between smoking and cars when I stumbled upon an article about mountain bike inventor Gary Fisher. On the direction of America’s bike culture, Fisher says, “Cars are the new smoking.” Glad I wasn’t reading while pedaling, ’cause I would have fallen off my bike.

Fisher didn’t explain what he meant by comparing cars with the act of smoking cigarettes. I don’t think he had too. Society’s views on smoking have changed over the years. Smoking was once the norm. People smoked in open places and did not think twice about the health or environmental ramifications. Today smoking is proven deadly. I wonder if people’s feelings towards driving large ostentatious cars are changing. Do we now or will we later see SUVs in the same way as we see smoking today? Will we look back and see large cars being deadly to the environment and to our health? Are cars the new smoking? The statement alone boggles my brain and conjures words and images as to why, in some social circles, the two seemingly dissimilar acts are intrinsically linked.


Perhaps Fisher’s car and cigarette connection resonates so strongly due to my athletic background. As a two-time Ironman finisher, I’m no stranger to riding thousands of miles with other bike-minded non-smoking friends. Perhaps I’m still fuming over growing-up with a parent who smoked two packs a day around my younger sister and me. Either way, the general social consciousness seems to be treating owners of SUVs, Hummers, and other large vehicles with the same disdain once reserved for smokers. Since Fisher didn’t elaborate on his reasons for comparing cars to smoking,

Here are 10 reasons why cars are the new smoking:

1. Cost.

Both smoking and car ownership are expensive. Smoking cigs and driving fuel-hungry cars can burn horrendous holes in your wallet. Smokers can pay thousands a year for the cancer sticks alone, but the cost to their health is priceless. Drivers burn through thousands a year on fuel. Add the cost of the vehicle, maintenance and insurance, and your whacked with the stench of some serious cash gone up in smoke.

2. Addictive.

It took years for cigarette maker Philip Morris to admit nicotine is addictive. What about cars? One could argue that cars have a dependence on fuel consumption to function while people have a repetitive habitual reliance on cars. The increase in gas thefts certainly makes one consider how siphoning fuel from your neighbor’s gas tank could be considered addict behavior. Perhaps these fuel thieves are the new dope dealers. Drivers of gas guzzling cars are the addicts. Rather than adjust their driving lifestyle, they opt for the black market and buy the fuel stolen from their neighbors’ tanks.

3. Killers.

Smoking cigarettes will kill you. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports there are 5.4 million tobacco-related deaths every year. The situation is so deathly dire in developing nations that kagillionaires Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg have pledged $500 million to combat tobacco consumption in Asia, Africa, China, and India.

Cars are no life savers either. The WHO reports that worldwide, an estimated 1.2 million people are killed in road crashes each year and as many as 50 million are injured. Automobile related deaths are so common they fail to attract media attention in favor of less frequent types of tragedy. Sorry to be all doom and gloom.

4. Preventable.

Both smoking and automobile related deaths are preventable. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes tobacco use as “the single most important preventable risk to human health in developed countries and an important cause of premature death worldwide.”

Car crashes are also preventable. Both the World Bank and the WHO jointly launched the World Report citing that unsafe road traffic systems are seriously harming global public health and development. The report contends that the level of road traffic injury is unacceptable and that it is largely avoidable.

5. Ostracized.

Where smokers are now treated as outcasts by being legislated and banned from practicing their nicotine addiction anywhere they please, I now see SUV drivers being sent a similar social message. Drivers of environment eating Hummers are feeling the brunt of public condemnation. Some drivers find their Humvee tires slashed, windows broken, and messages scratched into the bodies of their vehicles. The public has gone so far as to label SUV and Hummer owners as “Earth Fuc$ers” with minuscule member peens. Indeed, the bigger a man’s car, the smaller his dick?

6. Second Hand Fumes.

Both cigarettes and cars cause pollution in the forms of second hand smoke and exhaust emissions. Both forms of fumes contain a range of toxic substances which can seriously impact our health, including: cancer, respiratory infections, and asthma. Both cigarette smoke and car exhaust fumes are involuntarily inhaled by nonsmokers and nondrivers.

7. Peer Pressure.

One of the biggest reasons teens start to smoke is peer influence. The Lung Association says, “Over 70 per cent of teens say that having friends who smoke and/or peer pressure is the number one reason for starting to smoke.” (source).

Peer pressure can also influence car buying decisions. The notion of “keeping up with the the Joneses” is alive and well in America. Look to your neighbor’s driveway and tell me how your car measures up. Blogger Frugal Dad writes on the financial peer pressure of owning a ride rad enough to “impress strangers at a red light.” He says, “Somewhere along the line we Americans decided a car was a reflection of our wealth, a sort of mobile status symbol.” Frugal Dad fully admits that peer pressure can cause one to justify spending hundreds more a month for a “new” ride when “many times a used alternative would do just fine.”

8. Deceptive Advertising.

The tobacco industry has used deceptive advertising techniques to lure kids and teens into smoking for years. Despite being prohibited from targeting youth in the advertising of tobacco products, the tobacco companies have “increased their cigarette marketing expenditures by 125 percent” marketing to kids (source). One of the most common tactics is the introduction of candy-flavored cigarettes and smokeless tobacco (see ads), and other tobacco-like candy.

Car companies use deceptive practices as well to sell cars, trucks, and SUVs. The use of financing programs, sweepstakes contests, money off MSRP, pre-approved credit, zero down, liquidation sales, and selling below dealer’s cost have all been tested in court as deceptive practices (source). The SUV automakers have also been slapped on the chassis by their deceptive advertising in “bluring the lines between SUVs and cars.” Attorney General Charlie Crist says, “Consumers were being deceived into believing SUVs have car-like handling and performance capabilities when in fact they are more like a truck.” Too bad no one mentioned fuel consumption. Yikes.

9. Glamorized.

The movies don’t show you emphysema, but they sure glamorize smoking. Tobacco companies pay movie producers big bucks to get their deathly product on the big screen in the form of product placement. Website Smoke Free Movies shows how “Big Tobacco” companies and Hollywood have influenced and glamorized smoking by placing smoking ads in films over the years. The more people who view their favorite actor lighting up, the more likely they themselves will strike a match. To combat tobacco placement in film, the Motion Picture Association of America will now rate films that “appear to glamorize smoking” with restrictive ratings and increasingly detailed advisories (source).

Cars have been featured as the stars in many a film over the decades. But it’s the glamorization and idealization of street racing and unsafe driving which bothers me most. Films like The Fast and the Furious have been blamed by media watchdogs for increasing illegal street racing (source). Others argue that films American Graffiti and Two-Lane Blacktop set these precedents decades earlier.

10. Land use.

How much land is required and how many forests are consumed to grow, harvest, and manufacture tobacco? How many miles of pavement are required to build the infrastructure to operate motor vehicles around the world? All of this land and these resources are being consumed for what?

The tobacco farms could be allocated to growing food. The pavement plowing over farm land at an alarming rate should also cause concern for anyone requiring food to survive. In the words of Joni Mitchell, I do believe “they paved paradise, they put up a parking lot.” I have to wonder though, is Joni a smoker?

Thank you to Gary Fisher for making the connection between cars and smoking. Thanks as well to Tim O’Reilly for Twittering Fisher’s words for all us Twits out there in Twitterland.

I’m going for a bike ride now.


  1. Mike July 25, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    I think it is very naive, and quite judgemental to say that you “feel particularly loathsome towards the drivers of larger gas-guzzling trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs).” There are countless reasons for people to drive different vehicles, not the least of which is lifestyle, occupation, need, family and more. I have two trucks for example. One is 15 years old, a diesel and in great shape with low miles that I use for work and as a farm truck. The other is a few years old, and holds our family- safely, as well as our pets and other functional needs. Yet we also drive a 45 mpg ’99 Metro with no air conditioning much of the time. Do we judge those who drive SUV’s, or applaud those who drive hybrids? No. Everyone is different, and as a free, enterprising country it is wonderful to be able to choose, and to afford that choice as the case may be.

    By the way, I wonder how much airline fuel you burned taking two flights to Hawaii for those Ironman competitions? Good for you and your passion, but please leave the pious greenery at home.

  2. Frugal Dad July 25, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    Great post–and thanks for working in my article on financial peer pressure!

  3. Kerry July 25, 2008 at 8:35 pm

    @Mike Thanks for commenting. Differing opinions are welcome. As far as your Ironman comment, I participate in Ironman Canada which is a local race from where I live.

  4. Frugal Wench July 25, 2008 at 9:05 pm

    I’m so loving this post! I’m seriously thinking of selling my old POS car to an illegal immigrant and using the money to fix up my 35 year old Raleigh 10 speed. I’m so sick of paying more for insurance and repairs every year than the freaking car is worth!

  5. Mike July 25, 2008 at 9:11 pm

    Fox- Thanks for the reply; my mistake about the Ironman. I thought there was only one. But what does that say about society when we hold up the criminal behavior of those slashing tires and causing anarchy as an example of the legitimacy of the debate for one’s choice of a vehicle to drive?

    Where do we go next, lambasting those who weigh more because they breath more air, and, um… “poop” more? And realistically, one might drive a truck or SUV only a few times a week or month. And someone else might drive their high mileage vehicle for hours each day, exceeding the energy use of a larger vehicle.

    I’m so glad there are folks that love to walk and ride bicycles or cut down on energy use. We might too if we lived where that was more feasible. As it is we even use tractors to take care of business and property. It’s interesting because I too used to ride and train for triathlons when I was younger, and loved it. It’s a big world however, with many different people and opinions as you say.

    Having traveled the world, and seen warfare and the destruction of rain forests and jungles first hand, I can tell you there are far more pressing issues than loathing someone for driving a truck.

  6. Joe Camel July 26, 2008 at 3:28 am

    You can badmouth cigarettes all you want, but if you do the same with cars, I predict you’ll get your tail stepped on.

  7. Four Pillars July 26, 2008 at 4:04 am

    I don’t think you can equate not smoking with not owning a car – a more accurate analogy would be not smoking and not ever DRIVING in a car. If you drive or ride in a car, the ownership is somewhat irrelevant – you are still polluting.


    p.s. – you don’t smoke? And I thought you were cool! 🙂

  8. guinness416 July 26, 2008 at 4:33 am

    Good stuff! This is one that you’re going to get a lot of defensive comments and the multitudes of safety studies cited on for sure, fox, hope you have your hard hat ready … I’ve made it to 31 without owning a car; I don’t need to be politically correct, I hate the bloody things and always have. And I think I’m much the healthier and richer for it.

    But I’ve always lived around non-car owning people. Where I grew up nobody owned a car until they’d left university – certainly there was none of the cars as 17th birthday gifts that I’ve observed over here in North america. At one point when I was in New York, we needed a car at the office for something and nobody – not one – in my department owned one. There are many people in my current workplace in TO who rent or zipcar for site visits.

    While there are those who need their trucks, in urban areas like this there are without a shadow of a doubt those who just love the macho feel of them. But that’s acceptable, so own it boys! If I hear one more person say he, ahem, “does a lot of home maintenance” when I see his truck every day and know it never carried so much as a screwdriver I’ll laugh in his face.

    It’s always good to just question some aspects of your lifestyle sometimes – I have many friends back in NYC who have small kids and no cars, anything is possible!

  9. moneygardener July 26, 2008 at 4:44 am

    Well written and thought out post, however I think you’ve taken this too far and you probably know that you have. Controversial posts will certainly draw readers in. Mike makes some good points. Nobody has the necessity to smoke while millions have necessity to drive larger vehicles. I think everyone has the fundamental right to pollute the environment with a 8 cyclinder gas guzzler. They also have the right to smoke a pack a day, but neither the V8 or the smokes are getting any cheaper. Economic incentives are the only incentives that work.

  10. Al Pal July 26, 2008 at 5:15 am

    I read your article with great interest – but I have to admit that a very small section has not resonated well with me – perhaps because I’m a new parent.

    As parents, we can only do our best to raise our children with the knowledge and information that we have available. On a daily basis, we have to make decisions with said information and ‘roll with the punches,’ crossing our fingers that 15 years down the road we haven’t unintentionally done anything to harm our children. The last thing I want to find out is that the car we bought last year, the almonds I ate as part of my vegetarian diet while I was pregnant, the toy I bought last month, or the cereal I fed my son this morning – will in anyway harm my child.

    We have a low-emission, fuel-efficient vehicle, and opt to car-pool and ride our bikes whenever possible. I don’t smoke – never have and I have no current plans to start the deadly habit. In fact, I will walk out of my way to avoid having cigarette fumes go anywhere near my infant son.

    Fifteen to 20 years ago, it was a different story. Smoking was fashionable, and the equally as harmful second hand fumes were not even a consideration. My mother was an avid smoker. While she didn’t smoke in front of me, or my siblings, there was always second-hand smoke in the air around us. She didn’t do this intentionally. She just didn’t know. She quit years later, and to this day – she still feels horrible about it. BUT…she didn’t know, what she didn’t know.

    Is it acceptable for us to blame our elders for lack of knowledge? It is my hope that my son grows up knowing that I’m making the best decisions I can, not only for him, but also for the environment that he will grow up in. That being said – he will also not be growing up in a bubble.

  11. Joe Camel July 26, 2008 at 6:13 am

    Al Pal :

    The notion tht SHS is as “harmful” as direct smoking defies scientific fact and common sense. SHS is thousands of times more dilute than direct puffing. Of course. I’m not saying direct is harmful either.

    You yourself are living proof of these facts. What was your mother upset about??

  12. Hayden Tompkins July 26, 2008 at 6:18 am

    “As a two-time Ironman finisher” Oh, heavens, Squawky! I am in equal parts impressed and amazed that we share a love of bicycles.

    As for Mike’s comments.

    Mike, it is hard to be ‘perfect’ in an imperfect world. We all are trying to find solutions not to shit where we eat, so to speak.

    As someone who has lived in several big cities – Miami, Orlando, Atlanta – I can tell you that the majority of folks driving Escalades and Ford F-150’s are NOT using it for farming or building. In Texas, I could understand how someone would chose a truck (it is impossible to be a rancher without a truck) but these big cities are not Texas, nor are they rural.

    There is a LARGE segment of the population who has viewed their vehicle as an extension of their ‘self’. Their car or truck speaks volumes about who they are. I share Squawky’s absolute disdain for people who drive those monster trucks around, when the only function it serves is to stroke one’s ego.

    Additionally, it is VERY difficult to escape our country’s infrastructure. Our cities are not built for walking/biking and our transportation system (airplanes/buses/trains) make it almost impossible to avoid traveling without using oil or coal.

    I think it is unfair to assume that someone is a hypocrite because they are forced to use a system that requires the mass expenditure of fossil fuels. It’s one thing if you are talking about a private jet, but it isn’t reasonable to lambast someone for using the mass transportation in place.

    Of course, one could also buy carbon credits – however – there needs to be a change in this country.

    The ‘free market’ in case you hadn’t noticed, isn’t all that ‘free’. Oil companies get massive subsidies and tax credits while they make record profits. I suspect that when they stop making profits, they will appeal to the government for yet more assistance.

    The thing is, we need to stop supporting a system that not only kind of devastates a planet we kind of like, but also is the main source of income for countries that support terrorism and anti-US propaganda. Sure, we can drill in Alaska or off the Florida coast – but that only insures that WE are producing some of the oil. It still supports a system which supports terror.

    Moving to bikes and ‘cleaner’ energy is a goal that the government and big business has been attempting to interfere with since the days of Buckminster Fuller. That’s no such a ‘free’ market to me.

    Anyway, I appreciate what you are trying to say (I do drive a car myself, mostly because Performance bike has YET to manage to deliver my electric bike GAH), but I think it is disingenuous to criticize someone for attempting to live in the system which is so entrenched.

    It’s kind of like “The Matrix”, completely impervious and self-protecting/sustaining.

  13. Kerry July 26, 2008 at 7:11 am

    Twenty-five years ago many would have torn me a new one based on my harsh anti-smoking thoughts. Today, society concedes smoking is undesirable. I wonder 10, 15, 25 years from now if society will see large ostentatious cars in the same way as we see smoking today. This is the point of the post.

    Looking outside of North America, consider the driving habits of Europeans – who have a very different attitude towards the size of a family vehicle. Europeans drive what we North Americans would consider a small auto and manage to get around just fine with their family outings. Europeans also have exceptional light rail public transportation. This infrastructure better facilitates less cars.

    The use of SUVs, Hummers, and trucks as single occupancy commuting vehicles is upsetting to me. I see single occupancy SUVs and trucks everyday, all are without farm plates.

  14. Kerry July 26, 2008 at 7:31 am

    Readers: I edited the beginning to include this paragraph:

    “Society’s views on smoking have changed over the years. Smoking was once the norm. People smoked in open places and did not think twice about the health or environmental ramifications. Today smoking is proven deadly. I wonder if people’s feelings towards driving large ostentatious cars are changing. Do we now or will we later see SUVs in the same way as we see smoking today? Will we look back and see large cars being deadly to the environment and to our health? Are cars the new smoking?”

  15. Michael J. McFadden July 26, 2008 at 8:16 am

    Excellent article! I strongly agree with the author and have made some of the same points in the past in several places. See e.g.

    I like to tell people that one of the reasons I understand Antismokers so well is because I used to be one… except that my focus was on cars. I was one of the founders of “Free Peoples Transit” a group dedicated to promoting alternatives to “America’s Automotive Addiction.” We used and spoke about using many of the same sort of tactics used by Antismokers today: making driving more expensive and less convenient through taxes and traffic regulations, dragging out the injured, mangled, and killed children, playing up the wildest of claims about pollution and illness, any and all… it was fair game because we *knew* that cars were bad and bicycles/masstransit was good.

    Fortunately in the late 1980s I began realizing I did not have the right to interfere in others’ choices in life to that degree. I still “dabble” though… at least as it relates to the smoking issue.

    Michael J. McFadden
    Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains

  16. Joe Camel July 26, 2008 at 8:23 am

    Smoking wasn’t “deadly” in the old days and it isn’t deadly today. That fraud is financed by the obscene wealth of Big Pharma, who wants to outlaw tobacco–the best antidepressant known to man–and replace with a daily handful of prescription drugs at ten prices. Against all common sense, their propaganda machine has managed to convince millions of nonsmokers– and a goodly number of smokers — that one of the most delightful and therapeutic habits there is is something to be eradicaded. A pox on their house and on anyone who supports their fraud.

    There’s nothing wrong with small cars. If you use antitobacco -type badmouthing against big ones, you can get rid of them but not all cars. Putting anyone on a bicycle for “the good of the environment” is barbaric.

  17. Marci July 26, 2008 at 9:10 am

    So we should all go back to horses? or Bikes? Not.
    And how would I get my (free)firewood home on a bike??? not!
    Or take my little bit of garbage to the dump??? not!

    If you lived in a rural farm area, with little public transportation (none to outlying areas) and it rained 100 inches a year and the wind blows 50-60 mph on a regular basis, I don’t think you’d be so anxious to ride a bike to work – especially in the winter months when it’s pouring rain AND blowing wind and in the upper 30’s, or once it starts freezing. It’s a muddy mess out here then!

    Remember that vehicles can be a business need – like for farmers and contractors, and even for me to get to work out here. My rigs are an 8 yr old subaru (112,000 miles and good for that many again, I hope) and a 34 yr old datsun pickup (hand brush painted hunter green by me and named “sweetpea”)- for the firewood and garbage runs. No that wasn’t a typo – it’s 34 yrs old. The little pickup does NOT leave town, therefore the need for a reliable car for trips to see my grandkids, where public transportion does Not go… Obviously, I am not worried about keeping up with the Joneses or what my neighbors think.

    I understand your premise about the gas-guzzlers, I even agree with you on the hummers :), but please don’t throw all car/truck usage into the same pot. If you lived in an area where 4WD or AWD is a necessity in the winter due to MUD, and pickups are a farm necessity, you’d not be saying such I would bet. I just think some city or urban folks see things so much differently than really rural farm folks. I’d need a horse and buggy for what you’re suggesting, and the horse feed and upkeep would cost me more yearly than the truck does 🙂

  18. Marci July 26, 2008 at 9:20 am

    Re: FARN PLATES on farm rigs. Not all trucks used on farms have farm rigs. It is a hassle/government rigamarole to get a farm plate – never in all our years of farming have our farm usage trucks had a farm plate – yet they were used on the farm everyday. So looking for the farm plate is NOT a good indication of which ones are used on a farm and which ones are not, at least as far as pick up trucks go.

    If I had to guess, for our local area, I’d say only 1 in 10 pick up trucks used on a farm here has a farm plate. (Rural farm area – MW Oregon)

  19. Marci July 26, 2008 at 9:26 am

    excuse the typos above, please…. should read: Farm Plates on farm rigs…Not all trucks used on farms have farm PLATES…. sorry bout that 🙂

  20. Jules July 26, 2008 at 11:54 am

    @ Joe Camel: In all seriousness, where are you getting your information from? Or are you just trolling this blog because you like being an @$$?

    As for the rest of this: I wholeheartedly agree that cars are obnoxious and SUVs need to die–which they are, but only after nobody could afford to gas them…BUT (and there’s always a “but”) the whole car thing wouldn’t be nearly so much of an issue if the racism of the 1960s weren’t so godawful.

    There’s a stunning history between the development of suburbia, desegregation of schools, and the conspiracy (and this, unlike other “conspiracies”, is actually a conspiracy and not merely attributable to stupidity) between the Big Three to drive other forms of transit into oblivion. I won’t bore you to death with the history, but getting rid of cars–even gas-guzzlers–is unlikely to happen.

  21. Four Pillars July 26, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    Money Gardener nailed it – it’s all about money.

    Europeans may have smaller cars but it’s not because they are smarter, more environmentally friendly or practical than north americans – they have had higher gas prices for a long time. That’s the only reason.

    My point is that if the gov’t is serious about cutting oil usage they should increase taxes on gasoline.


  22. Michael J. McFadden July 26, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    Jules wrote of, “the conspiracy… between the Big Three to drive other forms of transit into oblivion.”

    I think Jules is speaking of the Snell Report(Hearings?) before the Senate:

    ” a Chicago Federal jury convicted GM of having criminally conspired with Standard Oil of California, Firestone Tire and others to replace electric transportation with gas- or diesel-powered buses and to monopolize the sale of buses and related products to local transportation companies throughout the country. The court imposed a sanction of $5,000 on GM.” Big Tobacco (actually smokers) got hit with $250,000,000,000… a bit more.

    Mike talked about increasing taxes on gasoline. I could live with that. Why don’t we make them equal in percentage to basic product as cigarettes? Without any taxes (and without the “invisible” unlegislated tax called the Master Settlement Agreement) cigarettes would cost about $1.50 per pack. I think the average national figure is now approaching $4.50 to $6 a pack, a tax rate of two to three hundred percent.

    If the base price of gasoline at this point is $3/gallon, and we wanted to have a “level playing field” between drivers and smokers, we would then add between $6 and $9 per gallon.

    I could live with that. 25 years ago I would have PUSHED for that.

    Nowadays though I tend to fight against social engineering rather than for it.

    Michael J. McFadden
    Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains”

  23. […] Cars Are The New Smoking […]

  24. Hayden Tompkins July 27, 2008 at 4:35 am

    “Smoking wasn’t “deadly” in the old days and it isn’t deadly today.”

    You can’t possibly be serious. Have you ever watched anyone die of emphesema or lung cancer?

  25. Joe Camel July 27, 2008 at 4:38 am


    Trolling? I got my information about the tobacco war from protobacco websites, primarily FORCES INTERNATIONAL. You sound like a guy who is already brainwashed and therefore not interested in the facts. But the whole story is there for your reading pleasure.

  26. Joe Camel July 27, 2008 at 4:46 am

    Hayden Tompkins:

    Have you ever watched a nonsmoker die of lung cancer? It happens. The fraud of the tobacco war is in blaming the ravages of old age on tobacco. The cause of all dread diseases–cancer, heart disease, emphysema– are unknown.

  27. Mrs. Micah July 27, 2008 at 5:31 am

    I’m amused that Joe Camel accuses others of having been corrupted by “Big Pharma” when he is clearly a pawn of Big Tobacco himself. Who funds those sites? Hmm…no, it couldn’t be!!! For me, watching my father’s overall health dramatically improve after he quit smoking (the last time, it took him years to get it to stick) was proof enough that it wasn’t good for him.

    Anyway, squawkfox, I think your thesis has been proved by the comments. People are reacting the same way here that they do about if you write smoking. Some are saying “Ohmigod I know, those cars are so terrible,” and others are yelling “Freedom freedom freedom, and who are you to judge you judgmental person?” (Ok, there’s more nuance, but those are an melodramatic gist.)

  28. Joe Camel July 27, 2008 at 5:58 am

    You dismiss a protobacco site out of hand and think you’re smart. For your information, FORCES is funded by reader contributions. But it makes no difference who funds those who speak the facts.

    I would say that the improvement in your father’s health upon quitting smoking is coincidental, or perhaps he started drinking carrot juice. But it’s not due to smoking cessation because tobacco has no effect on health.

    I’m not a pawn of Big Tobacco– I’m a dedicated smoker who doesn’t like being lied about or kicked around by the deluded.

  29. […] came up with 10 reasons why cars are the new smoking. But you know what proved her point the best? How the comments section lit up over the whole thing. […]

  30. Mrs. Micah July 27, 2008 at 8:57 am

    @Joe, well I’m not stopping you…just keep it to yourself so I don’t end up smelling as disgusting or coughing. 😉 You can get drunk as a skunk too, but don’t drive and I probably won’t care. Your body is yours to waste. So go on feeling smart, we won’t stop you. But don’t expect me to enjoy the smell and expect me to support legislation which allows me to breathe freshER air.

  31. Michael J. McFadden July 27, 2008 at 9:28 am

    Mrs. Micah wrote, “expect me to support legislation which allows me to breathe freshER air.”

    Does that mean you’re in favor of amending the ban so that you can walk to a smoke-free bar/restaurant without breathing all the smoke from smokers who’ve been thrown out of the smoking ones?

    Michael J. McFadden
    Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains”

  32. Dana July 27, 2008 at 9:50 am

    The headline of this article made me read it! I just love how this has now become an issue. I think it’s interesting that many of us, including myself, had to have gas reach $4/gallon for us to start thinking your way.
    I wrote a sum what funny article about my Monster Truck rental. I think you may find it interesting:

    We currently own 2 vehicles – but effective Sept 1st we are down to one. It may not be for all the right green reasons – mostly for frugal reasons. I think it’s interesting how much being green and being frugal have in common. 🙂

    Cheers – congrats on the post – it made us all think.

    Dana King

    Green Bay, WI

  33. deepali July 27, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    Great article. I think it’s hard for people to see the link because many really and truly believe they must have their cars. But the truth is, you don’t need it. Billions do without (and did for centuries). So can you. You’ll just have to learn to adapt.

  34. GrannyAnnie July 27, 2008 at 10:00 pm

    I don’t know if you are making accurate comparisons or just trying to validate your opinion. Congratulations on riding a bicycle everywhere. I do hope you are able to continue this for decades. I, however, drive an automobile most places, and I make no apology. I am busy, productive, and intelligent. I live in an area that is not conducive to walking or riding a bicycle, and frankly, I enjoy driving.It is very fashionable nowadays to rage passionately about being “green”. Little consideration is given to much else. I believe we need to think in a different direction. Can we use our God given talents to problem solve instead of pointing fingers and labeling others as bad? I do not wish to give up driving, but I am open to trying out vehicles and fuels that are less intrusive on others. I’m sorry you do not share the spirit of open mindedness. It provides much more serenity.

  35. […] wrote an interesting piece: Cars Are the New Smoking. Can the costs of SUVs be compared to […]

  36. Danielle July 28, 2008 at 9:00 am

    I wish I could bike to work, but I work in sales, route sales, and I drive on average 700 miles a week. I cover about half the state of SC which is not known for public transportation. Even if I could take the bus to one of my areas, I couldn’t get between the accounts without a bike.

    When I can I work from home and take phone calls for my orders, but my job is very very face to face. When I don’t travel it shows in my income.

    I drive a 95 jetta that gets 33mpg highway.

    My DH works from home full time, so his commute/gas usage is zero! Maybe we even each other out?

  37. karla (threadbndr) July 28, 2008 at 9:40 am

    In a lot of large cities, it may well be possible or even desireable to live auto-less. In my small midwest city, only the poorest households have no cars. And they are forced to rely on very expensive cabs. I know, because my mother no longer drives (she’s 89) and trying to get transportation for her has been an on-going battle. There’s nothing resembling ZipCars either – we are too small a city to make them possible.

    While I try to drive less than most of my peers (even before gas went through the roof), I do continue to drive a modest car and my next car will certainly be even smaller. I don’t see myself being able to do without anytime in the foreseeable future.

    It will take a HUGE turn around in public policy to put public transit infrstructure in place in this town. In fact, rising disel prices have cut the local bus routes in half over the last three months, and now there is no service after 6pm or before 7am. So I can’t even take the bus to work any more; I’m driving MORE now!

  38. Zombie Money July 28, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    Good article but I def do need my car. I however have completely changed my driving habits and practice lots of fuel saving techniques which anyone can do. It works 🙂 Whatever can save me money! I’ll try to make a post on it in the future.

  39. REX July 29, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    Unfortunatly I drive my car daily.
    My employment requires that I go to jobsites in random locations, and my office is 26 miles from my home.
    My town has a great bus/train system and I do use it,
    but I can’t during the week.

    I’m glad to see the price of gas raising. Growth usually is painful (no pain-no gain). maybe this will convince the folks who haven’t been paying attention that we need to make some very big changes.

  40. This and That # 103 July 31, 2008 at 8:12 pm

    […] Squawkfox reckons that cars are the new smoking. […]

  41. Jon Kepler July 31, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    I understand why people choose to blame Hummers and other SUVs for their wastefulness, but I still find it amusing that other more obvious culprits are left undiscussed, like private jets or V12s. I personally drive a Lexus LS with a V8, and am considering upgrading to a V12 in the future. SUVs are the new smoking only because they are wasteful vehicles for the masses. For some reason, the truly prestigious cars get a free pass.

  42. Ben August 1, 2008 at 4:28 am

    The arguments for free choice, economic freedom, and right to pollute are used above in defense of gasoline powered vehicles. I agree completely with Fox’s re-stated thesis/question above.

    The purchase price of a vehicle today does not build in the life-cycle costs to health, taxpayer-funded healthcare to repair that health, and environment. In 20 years, I hope to live in a world that realizes hydrocarbon combustion (power plants, cars & trucks, etc) is more dangerous to society than smoking ever was. Cancer and heart disease incidence rates increase in correlation with the amount of pollution and waste material we introduce into our environment.

    We do need our cars today in a lot of non-urban scenarios. My hope is that economical technology will become available to enable the mass introduction of emission-free cars. This will not happen quickly unless we consumers change our attitudes toward the true social costs of combustion engines, and polluting. Consumers drive change.

  43. anon due to content- sorry! August 1, 2008 at 7:32 am

    Re: “My hope is that economical technology will become available to enable the mass introduction of emission-free cars. This will not happen quickly unless we consumers change our attitudes toward the true social costs of combustion engines, and polluting. Consumers drive change.”

    My reply: The technology has been economically available for over 40 years…. It is the powers-that-be that have covered it up and made it not available to the public. When I was a child, in the early 60’s, there was a man in our small town who had developed a car that ran on hydrogen…he built it in his small home garage… he drove around town in it… Thinking he would be doing a good thing for mankind, he sold the patent rights and anxiously awaiting the upcoming ‘new breed’ of car… It never happened. It was covered up in lieu of gas company profits… It is not the consumer who needs to change – we would all gladly drive a non polluting vehicle were it available – but in the name of gas profits, the technology has been covered up for the past 40 some years!!!!

  44. Michael J. McFadden August 3, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    After reading an article about the new tax rate on cigarettes in New York City raising the price to $10 a pack I need to amend my earlier recommendation about the gas tax.

    The base price (without taxes or the MSA “tax”) of a pack of smokes is about $1.50 so New York is imposing a 566% tax on them.

    The base price of a gallon of gas nowadays is reaching is (I think. I don’t drive so I may be off.) about $3.50

    So, to be fair, if we apply the 566% tax to gas the right price would be $3.50 + 19.81 or $23.31 per gallon.

    At such a tax rate the number of children ripped apart under the wheels of Detroit’s Manglers would approach zero, and the heart attack rate would GREATLY decrease as tens of millions of Americans rediscovered the sweaty joy of bicycling to work. The taxes of course could be used to subsidize more essential forms of transportation of goods, services, and people (including in some instances of course, trucks, where trains were not feasible) and our countryside would be regained as suburban sprawl reduced and we gathered joyously together in our urban communes.

    Ahhh… what a bright and tangled future we can weave….

    Michael J. McFadden
    Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains”

  45. Jon Kepler August 4, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    Michael, I think many people would respond with hostility to your comment, but I’ll keep it simple. Your proposal would benefit no one but the rich, as anyone without a substantial portion of their assets offshore would be dealt a fatal financial blow. Poor people simply don’t have the resources to go net-short every US market.

  46. Michael J. McFadden August 4, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    Jon, you need to appreciate the context of the comment. I would certainly not actually recommend such a tax on gasoline (Although back in my radical anti-car days I might have!)

    I was pointing out in my post how unfairly taxed tobacco products are and how other segments of society might feel if they were similarly singled out for such specialized taxation.

    The argument that cigarettes “cost” society more has been largely shown to be false. Two recent European studies showed that nonsomkers cost their government health systems as much as 100,000 pounds more per person due to their generally healthier lifestyles contributing towards costs ranging from sports injuries to old age infirmaties that smokers supposedly die too young for. Not to mention the fact that the nonsmokers avoid contributing the huge donation in taxes to the government covered by the smokers. In a *very* real sense, smokers greatly subsidize nonsmokers in the health systems.

    For a fuller treatment of that question you can read my well-referenced essay, “Taxes, Costs, and the MSA” at:

    Michael J. McFadden
    Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains”

  47. Jon Kepler August 4, 2008 at 3:08 pm

    Ahhh, got it Michael. Whatever the viewpoint, I think everyone can agree that cigarettes are singled out. In an earlier comment, I wondered aloud why private jets and twelve cylinder automobiles seem to get a free pass.

  48. Bri August 14, 2008 at 7:30 am

    I think it is incredibly shallow to assume or imply that you are better than someone else b/c of your location. This wasn’t your direct reference, but you have to understand that not everyone lives somewhere that makes it convenient to bike or walk. To say that you have a “disdain” for drivers and “find them disgusting” is a rather off-putting message and one that makes you come off as a very close-minded person.

    Many people can’t feasibly bike around or walk and it is ridiculous that somehow you equate these peoples choice (whether born of neccessity or not) to someone smoking. I used to enjoy your articles, but I think I will take my subscriptions elsewhere.

  49. David August 14, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    Wow, a dedicated smoker. Haven’t seen one of those for 25 years or so! I remember when smoking was cool…too bad it went out with neon, mullets and peg-legged jeans. Nowadays you just look like a jackass if you smoke. Maybe you could take up methamphetamines, too, I hear those are in-vogue…and I am sure there is a website dedicated to telling the “truth” about how safe they are, sponsored by the addicts (er, dedicated users).

    Could there be anything much dumber than someone who dedicates their life to smoking? Seriously? Maybe a new hobby is in order; like, say, standing up or walking around.

    However, on cars – most of us still need them and will continue to use them. But my family only has one and I ride my bike around town while my wife drives the car to work. But we do need one where we live, it would be impossible to go without. We definitely don’t need a giant SUV though to cart our two skinny bodies around, and I would fully support a huge tax on gas like there is on cigs!

  50. Tristan November 25, 2008 at 6:08 pm


    Delicious cigarettes. 2 bucks for a pack that lasts almost a week. If you can’t afford that, you probably need a new job.

  51. How It Is... November 26, 2008 at 2:09 am

    I really hate the word I’m about to use. I don’t ever really use it and think it really shouldn’t even be a word to begin with. Yet as I read this article there’s no other word that comes to mind other than retarted. Comparing cars to smoking? Are you serious? Thats like trying to convince someone that the number 5 is the new color blue.

    I’m so happy that you are fortunate enough to live close enough to everything that you can bike everywhere for all your needs. That you have no family to transport from point A to point B. I can only hope they don’t get lung cancer from it.

    You never have to leave town for any reason. Never have to move across country. Your life already sounds so thrilling.

    Yet most likely you are probably like this character I work with who doesn’t own a car or have a license because of how “evil” and “useless” they are. Yet everyday she tries getting rides home from people. Always asking for ride to places on the weekend that are obviously way to far too bike.

    This article isn’t about that though is it? Its about how cars (a necessary means of transport thats very useful, perfectly safe and harmless) are the same as smoking (a fad that develops into an addiction, causes health problems, has no real helpful use in society, and is a mind-altering agent). Amazing…

    …retarted just fits.

  52. Simon Baddeley November 26, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    I divorced my car a year ago after realising what had once been a passionate affair had turned into a loveless marriage. I know the green arguments but my real reasons for abandoning the car is it’s no fun any more. Like cigarettes they were one of the 20th century’s objects of desire – a celebrity prop. Like cigarettes and strange hairdoes, automobiles are fast slipping from their prime position in the human libido, they aren’t sexy anymore. They are fast reverting to the toys they were in their early years. Then they were the indulgence of the rich. Now like cigarettes the only place they are truly desired is around parts of the world where, during the heyday of the car, most could not afford them.

  53. Michael J. McFadden November 26, 2008 at 5:22 pm

    HowItIs wrote, “cars (a necessary means of transport thats very useful, perfectly safe and harmless)”

    I’ll grant that cars can be quite useful, but for many people who use them they actually are *not* necessary, and to call them “perfectly safe and harmless” is insane.

    Michael J. McFadden
    Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains”

  54. Jon Kepler November 26, 2008 at 11:01 pm

    Wow, this comment section came back to life after more than three months! I only know because I’m apparently still subscribed to the comments via e-mail.

    Simon, if your car doesn’t excite you, it’s definitely time to get a new car, not no car.

    On a different note, I absolutely DETEST bikers in large cities. Not only are their manoeuvres in traffic often suicidal, but they have very little respect for the vehicles around them in general. Biking is a horrible alternative to driving in urban areas.

  55. Simon Baddeley November 27, 2008 at 12:34 am

    I’m sure this is how the dinosaurs felt about the small mammals.

  56. hand rolling rand November 27, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    Having a car in an urban environment makes less and less sense unless one does so for an official or business purpose.

    In a rural environment cars and trucks are a necessity, not a matter of convenience or vanity.

    Maybe in the near future civic leaders will recognize this and the costs of owning a car (in terms of insurance and taxes) will rise to offset the increase in social liability presented by cities where driving is the norm. Then again maybe not, seeing as this is Amerika where people feel entitled to guzzle gas and smoke and not smoke and go crazy in pursuit of happiness.

    For now I’m happy riding my bike, riding in cars and rolling my smokes.

  57. Clive February 4, 2009 at 9:02 am

    Hi from the UK

    There’s some talk above about us “Europeans” driving small non-guzzling cars.

    Sure we do.

    So will you North American guys when you have to pay 4 times as much for your gasoline as you do at the moment. Don’t worry Fox – the days of the Hummer et al are numbered.

  58. PedestrianMe February 26, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    I love this post so much.

  59. Simon Baddeley March 2, 2009 at 6:03 am

    I got rid of my car and use my folding bicycle pus public transport for most travel. Fun and cheap – saving me lots to spend on what I want, like cigarettes (:))

  60. Shaun October 23, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    Great post! I wholeheartedly agree! I would argue that no one NEEDS an SUV. In most cases, a station wagon or compact minivan will suffice for a large family, and buying an SUV for “safety” only contributes to the Arms Race out on the freeway (improving your chances of survival by one-upping other drivers). I can understand having to own a truck for certain types of work- especially agriculture- but even then most people could get by with a smaller Toyota truck. The “need” for large vehicles is mainly psychological in nature.

    Going still further, people who say they “need” a car because of where they live should not have chosen to live there in the first place. I would never live in a neighborhood or participate in a lifestyle where owning a car is imperitive to my survival, and anyone who does so is just contributing to the problem of car dependence.

    I hope more people begin to see the CLEAR CONNECTION between cigarette and car dependence. Cars- and the ugly byproducts of cars (strip malls, freeways, drive-thrus, gas stations, roads through otherwise beautiful landscapes, sprawl, etc)- are every bit as ugly and disgusting as a pack of smokes. If cigarettes killed as many innocent children every year as cars do, and in as violent and gruesome a manner, they would be eradicated.

    Cars are old technology, and we need to move on as a society. High tech passenger and freight rail, light rail, walkable car-independent neighborhoods, pedestian/bicycle-only throughfares… these are things we can do to improve health, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and deal with future energy constraints. Leave the fossil fuel-burning trucks and cars to the people who need them (ie. farmers, police, firemen, military).

    Thank you for your post. I hope the car-driving world catches up to you at some point. You’re ahead of your time.

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