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The Government’s Smoke Screen for Health Nazism

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Since in our era of health Nazism, it is an ideological requirement to state whether one is “politically correct” on various issues, let me be up-front. I am a smoker — both cigarettes and a pipe — and I enjoy them immensely. I used to run in 10-K races, and I used to run seven-minute miles, but in the last few years, I have been lazy, and I have added a few extra pounds around the middle. I love candy bars, and I hate green food. Now you know everything. Forgive me, you who are politically correct, for I have sinned — and I continue to do so, with pleasure!

Having admitted this, I want to discuss the government’s plan to increasingly prohibit the right of people to smoke in a number of “public” areas. In March 1994, Robert E. Reich, secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that the government intended to impose new regulations that would severely limit or abolish the right to smoke in the workplace.

“Secondary smoke,” they argued, affects the health of millions of people who have to work side-by-side with — or in close proximity to — those who still practice this vile habit. Furthermore, they say that nonsmokers in restaurants — the hired help as well as the customers — are forced to suffer from those who fowl the air around them. Smokers, if tolerated at all in these “public” areas, must be segregated and located in rooms with external ventilation.

At the same time, Dr. David Kessler, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, claimed that the tobacco companies are manipulating the nicotine content in cigarettes to “hook” smokers and increase the difficulty of breaking the habit. The government, Dr. Kessler states, should regulate the nicotine content the tobacco manufacturers can put in their cigarettes.

The federal government has also proposed to increase dramatically the sales tax on tobacco products. Governmental officials say they want to make smokers pay for the higher medical costs their habit imposes on the rest of society; and they say they want to create a cost incentive for more people to kick the habit.

All of these proposed actions are steps on the road to banning the sale and smoking of tobacco products. Regardless of denials from government officials, this is the result they actually desire.

I began this article by referring to health Nazism. Since this is a loaded and emotional phrase, let me be clear about what I am not saying. I am not saying that people should smoke, or that smoking is medically good for you. I will concede for the sake of the argument that all of the medical-research findings are valid: smoking is hazardous to your health; it may shorten your life; and it may cause a higher probability of cancer. I am not saying that nonsmokers should be forced to work in a confined space with smokers. Again, for the sake of the argument, I will concede that secondary smoke is irritating for nonsmokers and might be harmful for their health, as well.

What I am referring to is an increasing political totalitarianism, in which a cultural elite of “beautiful people” claim to know how people should live — what lifestyles are in tune with their conception of the natural order of things — and what attitudes, beliefs, and forms of conduct demonstrate “sensitivity” for the planet and an appropriate “caring” for other people. Accompanying these views is an ideological intolerance for all those who hold and defend views opposed to their own. To live and think differently than according to their edicts is proof of near subhumanness. Their opponent is considered, and often labeled, a planetary rapist, a racist, a sexist, a cultural boor, and an enemy of the good. And these condemnations are spoken with a tone of self-righteousness that only those who know the good can express. And because they are the good, they want power. With this power, they will free the rest of humanity from the sinfulness that people are guilty of and sometimes too ignorant to know they are engaged in.

This is what makes these people so dangerous. If they have their way — and if their policies are taken to their logical conclusion — America will be transformed into a politically correct concentration camp, with our cultural and health Nazis being the political guards and enforcers. Over the gate at the actual Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald are inscribed the words, “Everyone Gets What They Deserve.” And we will get what we deserve, if this trend is not opposed and reversed.

The starting premise from which the government argues its case for banning or strictly narrowing the right to smoke is the idea of the existence of “public” areas, which, in this case, the government defines as the workplace or place of business. In fact, these are not public areas. They are private areas because they are on private property. They are owned by private individuals or corporations, and, as such, it is these private owners who should have the right to determine access to and use of these properties. As long as the owners resort to neither force nor fraud in the use of their property and in their dealings with others, the political authority legally and ethically should not be permitted to intervene into the owners’ disposition over that which is theirs. Once we surrender this point, we undermine and subvert the very essence of what private property means — and we are on the road to socialist serfdom.

No one is “forced” to eat in a restaurant that contains a smoking section or work in a place of business that permits some employees to turn the office space or shop floor into a smoke-filled room. Those who choose to patronize such restaurants or accept employment in those businesses do so of their own free will. The customer prefers the service and product offered better than buying it some place else or doing without it; the employee prefers the pay and fringe benefits offered or the work he is hired to do more than his next-best alternative in the marketplace.

At the same time, the seller must be “market-oriented” in terms of the environment he offers to his customers and the work conditions he creates for his employees. If a number of his customers find a smoking environment so unattractive that the seller loses their patronage, he must weigh, at the margin, which represents the greater cost — the lost revenue from losing the business of nonsmokers, or the lost revenue that he would suffer if he made his establishment a nonsmoking area. Or, he may try, as many places of business now do, to satisfy both groups by providing smoking and nonsmoking areas.

In the workplace, the employer must likewise weigh the marginal costs — the lost revenue from losing productive workers who find alternative employment in non-smoking enterprises; the extra costs in providing health insurance for workers who are smokers and the savings if he hires more or only non-smokers; and the lost revenues if he loses productive workers who leave because he makes the workplace a nonsmoking zone.

The market naturally — and of its own accord — sorts these matters out to reflect the preferences of employees, employers, and customers. The market tends to incorporate a wide degree of tolerance and diversity, as is to be expected in a free society in which there is rarely a homogeneity of preferences and desires.

Addictions — and the politically correct now tell us that anything we feel compelled do to and seemingly can’t “control” is an addiction — come in various forms: physical, psychological, and intellectual. The nicotine addict might cut back or even kick the habit, so not to waste a dollar that could be used in trying to make the big score at the gambling tables. The alcoholic might sober up because he “cannot live” without the tee-totaling girl of his dreams. The honest employee might embezzle the company funds because he “must” own the Rembrandt painting up for sale at the art auction. The brilliant young lawyer throws away a successful career because he “needs” to dedicate his life to an ideological cause or a religious cult.

Under this definition, few of us are not “addicted” to something. Most of our addictions are harmless or mild. Others are debilitating and even life-threatening. But as Lysander Spooner pointed out in the 1870s, vices are not crimes. Once we make vices crimes, there is no end to the expansion of the police state, since there is always someone’s vice that another thinks must be added to the growing list of crimes for which the addict and those who supply him should be punished.

Our century has been a cruel experiment in attempts to make over multitudes of people through the power of the state, to free them and society from dangerous habits, practices, and thoughts. Indeed, the worst of the addictions of the 20th century has been the addiction to trying to make master races, new socialist men, good citizens, and politically correct human beings.

Regulating or banning the producer or seller of the commodity accused of inducing the addiction will not cure the addict or solve the problems or obsessions within the individual who gains pleasure or escape from his particular vice. It merely diverts the satisfaction of it into illegal channels that multiply the negative effects for both the addict and a widening circle of others upon whom the black-market activities impact. As with all fundamental human problems, the solutions lie within the individual himself and from those who try to assist him through peaceful persuasion, support, and example of a better life.

Furthermore, discriminatory taxation, as proposed by the Clinton administration, will not solve the problems public officials hope to cure, and it makes a dangerous precedent for politically correct campaigns in the future. In February 1994, a discriminatory tax on cigarettes had to be repealed in Canada precisely because it only created a significant incentive for the importation of “bootleg” cigarettes from the United States, from which black-marketeers made huge profits. As a result, the tax neither noticeably reduced cigarette consumption in Canada nor increased the financial coffers of the state. The proposed U. S. cigarette tax increase will most likely result in the illegal traffic now moving in the opposite direction from Canada or from areas south of the border.

Finally, the rationale for the tax — that it is meant to generate revenue for the state to subsidize the added medical costs that the addict’s behavior imposes on the society and to induce people to give up smoking — can easily be extended to a wide array of other politically incorrect forms of conduct. Unhealthy dietary habits cause obesity, heart attacks, strokes, and numerous other physical complications, all of which add to the cost of medical care in the United States. The logic suggests that among the next items on the agenda of the health Nazis should be the heavy taxing or banning of junk food, mandatory exercise for every man, woman, and child in America, and a compulsory regime of a balanced diet for all.

For the health Nazis, the new path to a master race (sorry, I meant species) of supermen — excuse me, superpersons — may be found in compelling everybody to eat their greens (assuming they finally can decide whether or not plants have “rights”) and regulating the consumption of red meat (that could reduce part of the cruelty-to-animals problem, too).

Those the gods would destroy, they first make mad.

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    Richard M. Ebeling is a professor of economics at Northwood University. He was formerly president of The Foundation for Economic Education (2003–2008), was the Ludwig von Mises Professor of Economics at Hillsdale College (1988–2003) in Hillsdale, Michigan, and served as vice president of academic affairs for The Future of Freedom Foundation (1989–2003).