The war on smokers continues as the FDA moves to ban menthol cigarettes. From the initial indoor smoking bans in the late 1990s, to the current war on vaping, nicotine users have been increasingly marginalized. And they are particularly discriminated against by the upper class and ruling class, especially because smoking has become more concentrated among low-income people. Now, the Biden administration is looking to push smokers even further to the fringes, this time adding an unfortunate racial component as menthols are used overwhelmingly by African Americans.
Here’s a better idea: let people smoke.
Public health is important, as is the freedom to make decisions that give you pleasure even if they harm your own body. Almost every day, we all do something that is not optimal for our health, whether it’s eating a burger or bungee jumping. The question of whether and how government allows us to harm our bodies is a question rooted as much in the classroom as it is in science. If you prefer the harmful activities of the ruling class, you are probably safe. But if your vices are despised by them, be careful.
An interesting question: How many people in the Biden administration are smokers? We don’t know, but given their socio-economic status, there will likely be very few. Among the “elites” of East Coast cities like Washington, DC, smoking has become extremely unpopular (believe me), and those who smoke are being treated like lepers.
But how many in the Biden administration regularly stop by to get some sort of Frappuccino from Starbucks, which can contain as many calories as a Big Mac? Yet those same people might look with disdain on those who regularly eat Big Macs. Likewise with soda, which has acquired class implications because poorer Americans drink it much more often.
It is true that smoking is very bad for you, and death and the adverse health effects of smoking are a significant problem. Yet despite this indisputable fact, is it still possible to legitimately choose to smoke? Yes it is. People all over the world love to smoke and withdrawing their favorite flavor decreases their subjective sense of well-being for the same reason that banning Frappuccinos would decrease the well-being of those in the Biden administration who like to indulge occasionally. Why don’t smokers’ preferences have the same importance?
Some may argue that those who are addicted to smoking no longer “choose” to smoke, so their preferences don’t really matter. Yet if addiction was the only reason people smoked, that wouldn’t explain why someone starts smoking in the first place. In addition, millions of Americans who are not addicted to nicotine occasionally use cigarettes after a long day, after a big meal, or when they are at the bar. Often it’s a menthol cigarette.
There are legitimate concerns about whether second-hand smoke is harming others. Yet these concerns have been largely eliminated by pushing smokers outdoors, off college campuses, sports stadiums, parks, and essentially all other public spaces. Smokers are now relegated to the back alleys and huddle under eaves to protect others from potential harm.
Or maybe health care costs are the problem. Yet some studies have shown that smokers’ net health care costs may in fact be positive, and certainly not clearly negative. Smokers will have to pay more health care costs over their lifetime, but they will also die sooner, costing less in the later years of life when a significant amount of lifetime health care costs are incurred. For countries with generous pensions and pensions, the premature deaths of smokers could generate significant savings.
It may sound morbid, but our risky choices can often affect public finances. Why are smokers different? Additionally, insurance companies can charge smokers up to 50% more under the Affordable Care Act, one of the few categories that can legally be required to pay more. Meanwhile, states like New York are putting more than $ 4 in excise taxes on cigarettes. Are smokers not paying their fair share for their choices?
Paternalism is a slippery slope. If your vices become unpopular with the ruling class, prepare to stand up for your right to harm your own body. But first you must stand up for the rights of others, even – especially – those who appreciate the vices you hate.
Trevor Burrus is a research fellow at the Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute and editor of the Cato Supreme Court Review. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.