The Ontological Status of Tobacco

Tobacco Regulation Smokescreen

Have you ever seen anyone sit down at the breakfast table and pour themselves a big ol’ bowl of cigarettes? Of course not. Why not? Because cigarettes aren’t food, that’s why.

Have you ever seen someone at the drug store waiting for their prescription of Marlboros? Of course not. Why not? Because cigarettes aren’t drugs.

Fatuity, thy name is Chuck Muth. Lots of things – chewing gum and lip balm, for instance – are neither breakfast cereal nor prescription drugs, but they’re still regulated for the sake of public safety. Of course protecting public safety couldn’t possibly be the reason being efforts to regulate tobacco as food and/or drug. Nope; the boogymen in the DNC are to blame.

So why, then, do Democrats (and some misguided Republicans) want to place tobacco under the regulatory control of the Food & Drug Administration (FDA)? Well, that’s kinda like asking why lions chase wildebeests. It’s just what they do; expand government.

You want to overgeneralize and caricature lawmakers you disagree with? Fine. Let’s even the score by asking why, in the face of decades of mounting evidence that tobacco products are carcinogenic and highly addictive – engineered to be increasingly so in fact – do Republicans (and some misguided Democrats) continue to defend Big Tobacco? It’s just what they do; whore themselves to corporate interests at the expense of the welfare of their constituents.

Skipping past vacuous defenses of laissez-faire capitalism and the burning of Big Government in straw man effigy..

The Winston Salem-Journal recently summed this all up nicely in an editorial:

“Regulating cigarette sales to adults has no place in a free society. Nobody’s denying the health hazards of tobacco. Most of the smokers who can’t quit sure don’t deny the danger. But if the industry is to eventually become extinct, the forces influencing that ought to involve the simple law of supply and demand. Prohibition proved that limiting supply doesn’t work. . . . Public restrictions on smoking are already limiting demand. But government intervention through FDA regulation would destroy the principle that people are responsible for the consequences of their actions in a world that is far from risk free.”

There’s a grain of truth in that. We need to severely reduce demand. To that end, I suggest that legislators set a more reasonable goal of regulating nicotine as a drug or food additive. By limiting the amount of the primary psychotropic component in tobacco products, fewer people would become/remain addicted and demand would correspondingly drop. Still, attacking consumption and production aren’t and shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. If they were, pot wouldn’t be illegal. Heck, by Muth’s logic, the sale of pot shouldn’t be illegal. After all, the consumers are really to blame. I guess we should leave drug dealers alone.

Ever notice that conservatives are gung-ho about supply-side economics when tax breaks and deregulation are the fruits but get cagey and point fingers at consumers when companies are held to higher ethical standards? Is consumption a primary economic force or just a secondary consequence of production? Make up your minds, folks. If supply indeed creates its own demand, we need to bring the production of tobacco products to a halt, or at least strongly control it, if we want to protect public health, don’t we?

Anyhow, regardless of or right or wrong supply- and demand-side economics are, it’s pretty obvious that any product more addictive than heroin certainly creates its own demand. Furthermore, it’s a product known to cause severe health problems, including various cancers. That’s a problem. People like Chuck Muth aren’t making it any easier to solve.

Comments 3

  1. John wrote:

    Also, he’s just ill-informed:

    “… between killer spinach, bird flu, mad cow and salmonella-laced peanut butter, one would think the FDA has a full plate already.”

    Spinach, beef and peanut butter would all fall under the jurisdiction of the USDA.

    Posted 20 Feb 2007 at 2:12 am
  2. Lightwave wrote:

    Another fallacy with the using the free-market theory is that if individual consumers are allowed to individually choose a harmful product, they will individually bear the consequences.

    This is not true. Since health care for those most likely to be suffering the ill-effects of the product is heavily subsidized by tax-payers (i.e. Medicare), the entire economic equation of cost/benefit is not based on free-markets. Much of the cost side of the equation is in later health-care. Essentially, government, through subsidized health programs, is artificially decreasing the cost of tobacco products.

    The only solutions are to 1) eliminate subsidized heath care (and remember we can’t even adjust social security…just try messing with health care) or 2) Artificially increase the cost of tobacco products to offset the artificial decrease due to subsidized health care. The net result should be that the prices of tobacco products should skyrocket with the prices of healthcare.

    Posted 20 Feb 2007 at 8:28 am
  3. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    Why should government solve “problems”? Why should the Federal Government solve “problems”? I ask this as a serious question.

    It seems you’d have a good natural law argument for the “government” to provide security to persons (against criminals and foreign invations), but it is really hard to get much beyond that (within natural law). I’m no libertarian, far from it, and I have no problem with communities enforcing their collective will on their own, but addressing tobacco and/or nicotine at the Federal level (or health care for that matter) seems… well… like trying to use a sledge hammer to pound 400 finish nails at once… It’s bound to have consequences worse than any potential benefits. (In health care and agricultural sectors, it seems clear that it already has.)

    Posted 26 Feb 2007 at 4:43 pm

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