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Bringing Down the Giants

2004-09-20

Category: politics

The Justice Department is taking several large tobacco companies to court. They claim that tobacco is bad for people and that these companies still engaged in activities designed to get people to buy tobacco. The tobacco companies respond with a hearty duh.

We all know that smoking is bad for you. The research has been around for a very long time. There are constant advertisements telling people not to smoke. Even if these things weren't around, trying to force smoke into one's lungs is a skill that has to be learned. Beginning smokers go through coughing fits while trying to adapt to smoking. Yet people still smoke (though in smaller numbers these days).

The tobacco companies, being companies, are there to make a profit. That is expected of them. Very few people start a company because they want to lose money. I believe their attempts to increase sales are to be expected. I can think of no reason to demand that they violate standard business practices. The Justice Department thinks otherwise.

The primary problem with the Justice Department's arguments is that tobacco is a legal product. That's right, it is perfectly legal to sell the stuff in the United States. Even with all we know about the bad effects of smoking, there are no laws preventing the sale of tobacco products to adults. For the Justice Department to complain about sales of a legal product is inane. What's next? Are they going to go after donut shops for selling fattening foods?

So, why are cigarettes still legal if there's so much bad about them?

That's easy. To begin with, there are still too many people who smoke. That's a big number of voters to annoy if any politician actively moves to ban cigarettes.

That large number also translates into a lot of business. Sure, that money could be spent somewhere else, but most other products don't collect as much tax revenue. That's right, the majority of the price of a pack of cigarettes is the taxes. If we ban tobacco then we cut off a huge bit of tax flow. As all of strapped-for-cash people know, the immediate inflow of bucks is better than long-term savings at some distant point in the future.

I know the government officially dislikes tobacco companies. That's tough. Until tobacco becomes illegal, the tobacco companies are allowed to try to sell their products and make a profit. The fact that some people still smoke (despite being told why they shouldn't) is not justification for trying to snag more cash from the tobacco companies (which is a prime motivator for the issue, in my opinion). If they really feel the tobacco companies are causing that much harm, make their product illegal.

Oh, wait, they can't do that because making it illegal would be a legislative issue and is beyond the authority of the Justice Department. Hmm, maybe there's another reason suing the tobacco companies.


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