Boy, do I feel sorry for smokers these days.
Smoking used to be so fashionable and hip in the James Dean and Steve McQueen days.
Women who smoked used to be sexy. No sooner did they pull a Virginia Slim out of a cigarette case than men would rush at them with lighters.
Even when smoking was cool, people knew it wasn't healthy. Some unhealthy smokers sued tobacco companies for concealing the unhealthful effects of sucking carcinogens into their lungs - and not one prevailed.
That changed in 1998, when 46 states sued the four biggest tobacco companies to recover Medicaid costs for tobacco-related maladies. The states won big. The tobacco industry has been nicotine-coughing up billions of dollars to the states ever since.
Or, to be more precise, smokers have been nicotine-coughing up billions. A pack of cigarettes costs five or six bucks. Taxes account for more than half of that price.
In any event, over the years, smoking has lost its coolness appeal among the public. Anti-smoking groups have made tremendous gains banning smoking in public places. To date, 38 states and all 60 of our biggest cities have public smoking bans in place.
To be sure, the anti-smoking sentiment is one of the few bipartisan issues left. People on both the left and right loathe smoking the way people used to hate polio and communism.
Many people on the right, sick of dining in restaurants where smoking was still allowed, were all for government bans on the legal activity. Didn't secondhand-smoke studies warrant it?
Many people on the left were for such government bans, too, for the simple reason that they love when the government tells people what they cannot do - except when it involves smoking marijuana.
And so it is that the bipartisan anti-smoking mob has relegated smokers to secondary-human-being status.
Smokers are shunned at family gatherings and sent to the garage or the street, so as not to stink up the house.
Even corporate CEOs who smoke are sent to the alleyway, where they mingle with other smokers like hapless pigeons.
And just when smokers thought things couldn't get worse, boy, are they getting worse.
Government regulators, who are now interpreting President Obama's Patient Protection and (ha ha!) Affordable Care Act, have determined that smokers should get hammered by insurance companies.
Starting next year, health insurers will be permitted to charge smokers who purchase individual policies up to 50 percent more for their premiums.
A 60-year-old smoker will pay, on average, $5,100 more than he is paying right now.
Why? Well, the fellow's smoking could cause him to have health issues, which others in the insurance pool would ultimately have to pay for.
Since he is a higher risk for the insurance pool, shouldn't he be required to pay more?
Many in the anti-smoking mob, on both left and right, surely think so - as they miss the larger point: If our federal government has gotten so big and meddlesome that it can single out a particular citizen who has freely chosen to use a legal product as a vice, what CAN'T our government do?
How long before chubby people and snack-cake eaters and people who like to hang-glide over mountain cliffs are also singled out by the government?
How long before the government in a big city, such as New York, bans salt and large soda drinks?
Oops, that has already happened.
Yeah, I feel sorry for smokers, but the way things are going, we'll all be mingling like pigeons in alleyways, secretly enjoying snack cakes, salty snacks and sugary drinks and hoping the government doesn't catch wind of it.
Tom Purcell, author of "Misadventures of a 1970's Childhood" and "Comical Sense: A Lone Humorist Takes on a World Gone Nutty!" is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons.