The day – Let people smoke whatever they choose

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, 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 Starbucks Frappuccino that has as many calories as a Big Mac? Yet those same people might look with disdain on those who regularly eat Big Macs.

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.

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.

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

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