- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Tobacco is the nanny state’s favorite punching bag. Attention-seeking politicians win headlines by introducing a bill or ordinance to ban lighting up somewhere.

This requires an ever-creative imagination, because most restaurants, bars, stores and workplaces are already off-limits. Such prohibitions now intrude into private spaces, including automobiles and apartments.

The CVS drugstore chain is doing its part to prevent smoking in private, announcing that cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco will disappear from its shelves by Oct. 1.

Executives at the chain are willing to give up about $2 billion in annual revenue for the news coverage it has received, coverage as glowing as the lighted tip of a Lucky Strike.

A private enterprise like CVS is certainly free to make the decision to snuff out sales of tobacco products in its stores, and this will encourage politicians to pressure Walgreens, RiteAid and other rival chains to follow.

That troubles certain bean counters, even if drugstores and pharmacies account for only about 3.6 percent of all U.S. retail cigarette sales, as measured in 2012 by Euromonitor International, a London-based market-research firm.

Tobacco is nevertheless legal, and its use is a choice, even if an unhealthy, unpleasant and unwise one. Americans have known that since Dr. Luther L. Terry, the surgeon general of that day, issued a landmark report 50 years ago concluding that lung cancer, emphysema, cardiovascular diseases and chronic bronchitis were the byproducts of cigarette smoking.

Since then, cigarette packages and print advertising for tobacco products have carried health warnings. Eighteen percent of U.S. adults smoke, and they know that smoking is bad for their health.

Tobacco is the cause of 480,000 deaths in the United States every year, but smokeless crusaders in Congress will never ban it for one cold, calculating reason.

Tens of billions of dollars in tax revenues pour into federal, state and local coffers from the sale of tobacco. Even Prohibitionists know they can’t kill this cash cow of prodigious wealth.

That’s about as rational as antismoking zealots get. Many have turned their anger toward electronic cigarettes, nicotine-delivery systems that emulate the sensation of smoking minus the smoke and tar — and peril.

E-cigarettes produce harmless and odorless water vapor, which doesn’t interfere with anyone’s right to breathe fresh air. Smokers use them to wean themselves from tobacco, and now the nannies want to take this option away.

“We are concerned about the potential for addiction and abuse of these products,” says Rita Chapelle, a spokesman for the federal Food and Drug Administration. “We don’t want the public to perceive them as a safer alternative to cigarettes.”

The government has an arguably legitimate role in protecting the public from exposure to second-hand smoke, but that role disappears in a crusade against smokeless substitutes or even against making cigarettes available for home use.

If the nannies are allowed to take away cigars and cigarettes to protect public health, they have a license to take away anything that they can paint as harmful — candy, a soft drink, a steak, a doughnut, just about everything. Life itself is known to be fatal.

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