It is hard to comprehend the righteous enthusiasm some Americans have for using the government to punish or effectively ban things that they find “offensive” or “immoral.” So it didn’t surprise me to see near universal applause when President Obama’s signed last month’s bill giving the FDA the power to regulate tobacco.
The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act now gives sweeping powers to the FDA. Anyone involved in manufacturing, preparing, compounding, or processing tobacco has to register with the FDA and submit to FDA inspections, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The FDA will also restrict tobacco advertising and advertising on labels, a blatant unconstitutional restriction of free speech. All of these new measures will be funded, of course, by taxes on manufactures, importers, and the cigarettes themselves.
Objections to this type of government control is not an endorsement of the harmful and deadly effects of smoking. Smoking is a bad habit and a personal choice, and the way to combat vices is through education and information, not with the corruptible power of the state. Liberals defend freedom from government only in private and social issues, and conservatives tend to only praise economic freedom, seeing no philosophical contradiction. These equally inconsistent ideologies have spent the last century playing a tug-of-war with each other over the reins of the massive US government, and depending on who is in charge, the vice hunting begins.
The enthusiasm behind this bill, and the tax raises on cigarettes that are gaining popularity, is disconcerting since it represents a regressive step in fighting the insanity of US drug laws and other prohibitions. A majority of Americans now think that marijuana should be decriminalized, and some states are standing up for themselves and making their own drug laws. Authorizing the FDA to regulate tobacco makes the repeal of victimless crime laws that much harder.
President Obama promised a different and encouraging approach to federal drug policy, but is again showing his reptilian political ability to say one thing and do the other. The raids on medical marijuana facilities have increased, including one a few months ago here in San Francisco. Our prisons are already bursting with millions of non-violent drug users. Will the hypocritical Puffer-in-Chief’s tobacco tyranny result in the criminal punishment of smokers?
An overreaction? Maybe. But consider that the beginning of the road for the federal ban on marijuana started with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. It effectively taxed marijuana at extremely high levels, and slowly but surely the government grabbed more and more control and regulation over “illicit” drugs until they were completely criminalized by Nixon’s junta.
The prohibition or taxation of a substance that is deemed “dangerous” or “harmful” has had, and continues to have, incredibly destructive repercussions that are worse than the drugs themselves. Modern drug prohibition, like alcohol prohibition before it, creates a black market where bloody organized crime steps in to supply the demand, forces police forces to waste valuable resources hunting drug offenders down, and actually increases drug use and addiction.
The road to hell is paved with government’s good intentions, and no matter how noble it may sound to regulate harmful substances for the benefit of the children (and don’t forget that nauseating, all-inclusive “society”), social problems, like smoking, are best handled by families, communities, churches, charities, guilds, and the thousands of other voluntary associations that existed when Americans didn’t live under a nanny state.
My fundamental objection to the regulation of tobacco, and drug prohibition, ultimately lies in the principal that our bodies and our property do not belong to the state. These prohibitions and massive regulations are counterproductive and costly, yes, but the real crime is how much of our individual liberty gets trampled by the government’s refusal to mind its own business.