- - Friday, October 24, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The world, or a good part of it, struggles to cope with Ebola, and the United Nations continues to be obsessed by tobacco. The World Health Organization, meeting in Moscow, came up with a treaty imposing a global tax on cigarettes and delegates of 179 nations signed it.

The United States isn’t a party to the agreement, but the drive toward global governance and taxation is a disturbing sign of much more to come. The delegates promised to raise taxes in their countries on tobacco products, ranging from cigarettes to snuff, to pipe tobacco and even electronic cigarettes with no tobacco. The idea is to price tobacco out of reach of ordinary people.

Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, head of the convention secretariat, asked the nations to “enact maximum possible taxes and increase prices in such a way that you make consumption of tobacco impossible.”

If the global nanny succeeds, the U.N. will set its sights on other popular diversions to become subject to health crusaders. Soda pop, candy bars, alcohol and sports drinks could be taxed out of existence.

Tobacco is not good for anyone’s health, and hardly anyone would defend coffin nails because they’re obviously dangerous. But so are a lot of other things. Skiing accidents kill 54 Americans every year. About 800 die on a bicycle. Some 2,400 drown while swimming, and 8,600 fall down and die. Are taxes on skiing, bicycling, swimming and standing in the works?

Australia, Brazil, Ecuador, South Korea and Uganda are expected to enact legislation to support the global tax mandate. Given the first lady’s crusade to replace food that schoolchildren will actually eat with an order of three split peas on an orange peel, the Obama administration isn’t likely to put up a fight against encroachment on U.S. sovereignty.

Russia won’t be one to bow to an international bureaucracy, since Vladimir Putin has a bureaucracy of his own. Russia’s deputy minister of health, Dmitry Kostennikov, told the Moscow conference that Russia has no plans to “review or raise taxes on tobacco.”

Kuban Aidaraliev, a delegate from Kyrgyzstan, told reporters that “it’s strange that the U.N. would tell sovereign nations what to do. Many countries will say, ‘Thank you for the recommendation, but we’re not going to do it.’ Finance and tax officials in many countries will think the whole thing is funny.”

It’s the traditional ill wind that blows somebody good. The pharmaceutical companies bought a seat at the Moscow conference through its contributions to anti-tobacco nonprofits that have “observer” status, and were enabled to sit with delegates and lobby them where neutral observers were not allowed. The pharmaceuticals make nicotine patches, gums and mints that will become more popular if prohibitive tobacco taxes are imposed.

The decisions to balance risks and benefits can be made best by individual men and women without the heavy hand of legislative bodies. Ceding such decisions to unaccountable international bureaucrats is ceding freedom. The global prohibitionists won’t rest with a cigarette tax. They’re not interested in good health so much as controlling the lives of everyone.

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