Cigarettes and Government

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Here's
the definition of gall: a government lawyer crusading against cigarettes.

A
friendly reader of my last column, which urged bar owners in New
York to defy the state government's ban on smoking, reminds us of
the reason: Uncle Sam included coffin nails in military rations
for much of the 20th-century, hooking millions of men on the weed.

Yet
casting blame for cigarette disease, as the government wants to
do, really isn't the point. Point is, the more government fiddles
with anything, the bigger the mess. Government creates problems.
It rarely solves them.

C-Rations
and Cigs

The
fiddling with cigarettes began when the tobacco companies and government
colluded to introduce them to servicemen. From World War I through
Vietnam, American fighting men got them free.

Tens
and perhaps hundreds of thousands of American boys, who may have
never picked up a cigarette, suddenly had plenty. And they had plenty
of idle time with nothing to do but smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette.

The
practice even continued for 11 years after the surgeon general issued
his famous warning in 1964. On the one hand, government warned smoking
would kill you. On the other, it passed out millions of smokes.

But
suddenly, the government got religion. First, it began a propaganda
and regulatory campaign against cigarettes. Then, allegedly reacting
to the financial costs of cigarette disease, particularly for smokers
on the government health dole, the federal government, in collusion
with state attorneys general, launched an unprecedented assault
on a legal industry.

As
well, plaintiffs dying of cigarette diseases filed lawsuits, with
some winning preposterously gargantuan jury awards that punished
tobacco companies, again, for selling a legal product whose nature
was never unclear.

Government
Gall

So
government has come full circle, having gone from giving away free
cigarettes and creating millions of addicts while it waged war,
to waging war against the companies that kept the warriors happy.

The
irony of the situation, and the sheer gall of the government, shouldn't
be lost on anyone.

In
waging war across the planet, the government introduced tobacco
to many an innocent boy. For decades, the government subsidized
tobacco companies with access to a captive market of mostly conscript
soldiers. Government promoted a lethal product and continued to
do so after the surgeon general's famous report.

Point?
Surely, the military and civilian bureaucrats who participated in
the smoking subsidy must be punished. And just as surely, some World
War II vet with lung cancer has standing to sue the government if
he began smoking in a foxhole at Bastogne or Tarawa.

Using
the same legal logic used against the tobacco companies, government
shares culpability in causing lung cancer, emphysema, and heart
and kidney disease.

Government
Creates a Mess

Of
course, the government isn't genuinely responsible for all this
disease, and neither are the tobacco companies. People smoke of
their own volition.

But
taking the history of smoking and war against it into account proves
that government is as guilty of causing problems as private industry.
Indeed, with smoking, it can take more of the blame. After all,
government made the conscripts available.

No
wars, no draft. No draft, no conscripts. No conscripts, no captive
market. No captive market … well you get the idea.

So,
on the tobacco industry, smoking, and smokers, indeed, on just about
everything, some advice for the government:

Butt
out.

September
17, 2003

Syndicated
columnist R. Cort Kirkwood [send
him mail
] is managing editor of the Daily News-Record
in Harrisonburg, Va.

R.
Cort Kirkwood Archives


        
        

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