Ending the Failed “War on Tobacco”

Former ATF agent Thomas Lesnak reveals in The Daily Caller that the current array of tobacco laws and taxes, far from deterring smoking, merely encourages a black market that finances terrorism and other forms of crime.

Unfortunately, Lesnak’s proposed solution isn’t surprising in light of his former profession: increasing penalties and allocating greater funding toward law enforcement. The real irony is that he even mentions the Prohibition Era in his piece, but fails to draw the appropriate lesson from that experience. What, it’s hot in here? Let’s head over to the thermostat and turn up the heat — that’ll fix it.

Want to put an end to tobacco-related smuggling and crimes? Repeal all taxes and regulations that the government currently imposes upon tobacco. No more tax stamps and no more Surgeon General’s warnings.

This is unlikely to happen, though, since tobacco is “politically incorrect.” It has become common to see smokers huddled in the rain and cold alongside office buildings, herded into designated areas often located near the dumpsters, driven there by various ordinances.

It is instructive to observe the kind of shaming that we see ritualized via the law in society surrounding substances ingested into the human body, from the aforementioned ghettoization of smokers to the near-ubiquitous imperative to transport alcoholic beverages on public streets in a brown paper bag.

Some will surmise that my interest in the issue of tobacco laws is motivated by a personal desire to smoke. If that were my motivation, there would be nothing wrong with that, since politics is fundamentally about advancing one’s interests. (Unless you’re a socialist, that is, and then you’d only seek to advance the other guy’s interests — never your own, because that’d be selfish and immoral — and you’d certainly use taxpayer dollars to fund the effort.)

In the interests of full disclosure, however, I do not smoke, but I will defend the rights of those who choose to smoke. There is a difference between being forced to not do something and choosing to not do something, so if I ever decided to smoke someday, the regulatory apparatus would affect me. That makes it my fight.

Advocates of anti-smoking legislation claim to be looking out for vulnerable populations such as children or the poor, but it is precisely these populations that get hit hardest by governmental efforts. For example, when the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau banned an Athens, Ohio bargain tobacco store from allowing customers to use a machine that lets them roll their own cigarettes, the Athens News had to acknowledge that the price differential between commercially produced cigarettes and home-rolled ones negatively impacts low-income consumers.

If Lesnak & company continue to have their way, how long will it be until consumers stage a “smoke in,” or, less aggressively, launch a campaign to always ask proprietors where they keep their ashtrays (keeping the issue smoldering, so to speak)? Whether from a grassroots revolt or a change of heart at the top caused by a recognition of the brutal facts, tobacco policy will change. The point has been reached where no further taxation or regulation of tobacco can possibly yield the results that policymakers claim to seek.

Content published on the Young Americans for Liberty blog is only representative of the opinions and research of the individual authors. It does not necessarily reflect the views, goals, or membership of YAL.

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