Government's Complicity in Smoking
Reprint: Hartford Courant, Tuesday, September 28, 1999
Here's a little known fact: The federal government makes more money off each pack of cigarettes sold in America than does the tobacco company. According to some estimates, the sum of state and federal
taxes on a pack of smokes comes to about five times the profit made by the tobacco company after manufacturing and advertising costs are subtracted. Although the tobacco companies may be guilty of selling a product that is not exactly healthy, the government is guilty of greed on a scale that would have made Midas blush. So what has the federal government done with the more than $6 billion a year it collects off smokers? Has that money been
earmarked for lung cancer research? Has it been set aside to pay for CAT scans of all smoker's lungs to attempt to detect lung cancer in the early, curable phase? Maybe it has been used to pay for smoking-cessation programs aimed at teens.

Well, the truth is that the money rolling into government coffers from those who smoke has simply been added to general funds -- you know, roads, bridges, presidential junkets to Africa. So, because the federal government has been unable to exercise the fiscal discipline that would have allowed it to pay for sick smokers, the government came up with what it thought was a neat plan: Demonize the tobacco industry and sue it for billions of dollars, allegedly to pay for sick smokers.

Hard to believe, but it gets worse. Even when the states settled with Big Tobacco for almost $250 billion -- also, allegedly, to pay for sick smokers -- the money still went into general funds and was not used to its entirety to help stop smoking or help cure people sick after years of smoking.

The whole attack on the tobacco industry is a gross abuse of government power in which hearts and minds have been shaped by propaganda and incredible amounts of money have been stolen from a legal industry.

If an entity is culpable for the damage done by smoking, it is not the tobacco companies but, rather, the government itself. In 1964, the federal government was concerned enough about the health effects of smoking to force manufacturers to put a warning label on each pack of smokes. But un-willing to part with a steady stream of
tax revenue, government refused to take the next step and outlaw smoking altogether. So even though government was complicit in allowing people to smoke for the next 35 years, knowing full well the dangers, government refuses to accept any responsibility and has decided to take Big Tobacco to court to squeeze a few hundred more billion dollars out of the industry. Gee, that sets a good example for the kids.

The anti-tobacco true believers talk about the lies the tobacco companies told about smoking not being addictive. (It isn't, for all the smokers that have stopped.) But what about the lies Janet Reno and the rest tell about how smokers cost Americans so much money? They don't tell you that smokers actually save the government money in pensions and medical services because they die young.

They want you to hate smokers and the tobacco industry so that you'll share their zeal to go to battle against them. As it is now, the minority of Americans who still do smoke have to smoke outside or in their own houses, although there are efforts by the zealots to stop even that.

The ultimate irony once Washington succeeds in driving the tobacco industry and its jobs out of America and underground, will be twofold. First, the politicians will learn that they have slain the goose that laid the golden eggs -- because when the tobacco industry goes into bankruptcy protection, there will be no more billions to feast off of. Second, in its zeal to raise the price of a pack of smokes to keep them from kids, the government will have
created a whole new black market and revitalized organized crime in this country at the same time.

And it will be a just desert: For in the America we love, the legal industry should be allowed to do business and people should be allowed to choose their vices.