“If (my son) really wants a cigarette, I will buy him his first pack.” – Nick Naylor in “Thank You for Smoking.”

Angela Cesere

During the last half-century, legislators have used the health risks posed by smoking tobacco to justify the most draconian regulations imposed on any American industry. Currently, you cannot smoke in any restaurant in the state of California or in the city of New York. Consequently, restaurant and bar owners can no longer solicit the clientele they wish to serve. This is a dangerous economic model, and it will beget an even worse one over the next half-century unless we do something to stop it.

Way back when, the anti-smoking crowd began by calling for “sensible” regulations such as warning labels on tobacco products. Alerting Americans to the health risks posed by tobacco, the anti-smoking crusaders thought, would convince them to stop buying cancer sticks – but it didn’t happen.

Next, they targeted the dangers posed by tobacco company advertisements in venues frequented by children – televisions, convenience store exteriors, etc. Youngsters kept picking up the habit. Then, they targeted bars and restaurants – places where smoking was not only acceptable, but part of the culture. Since bars and restaurants cannot survive without the sale of alcohol, regulators tied the issuance of liquor licenses to the creation of “smoke-free environments” within the bar or restaurant. Bar owners reluctantly complied, begrudgingly showing their smoking patrons the door.

Now, the anti-smoking fascists are trying to remove the last sanctuaries available to Americans who smoke. The state of California is considering banning smoking inside motor vehicles and apartment buildings. After all, children, tenants and guests are unduly subjected to secondhand smoke in apartment buildings where smokers exercise their right to puff away. If they can ban smoking in cars and apartments, it is only a matter of time before the tobacco police cite studies saying subjecting contracted workers – maids, handymen, etc. – to the dangers of secondhand smoke is justification for banning smoking within one’s own home. Who knows – they may use “the plight of the children” to forever ban the traditional post-sex cigarette that so many savor.

The crusade against smoking represents a dangerous model of government regulation, and the anti-food crusaders are following in its footsteps. They first started by exploiting our fear of our children’s health and mortality. Then, they recommended we save the children by removing snacks and soda pop from the school cafeterias. Former President Bill Clinton and Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas have joined hands in removing these dangerous foods from Arkansas’s public schools.

I have nothing against serving healthier meals in public schools, but governmental regulations cannot replace the educational value of a parent. How are children to learn the workings of a free-market economy when they can’t trade their carrot sticks for a handful of M&Ms? Nor should government dictate what a childhood diet should entail.

I want to go on the record predicting how the anti-food crusade will play out in our lifetime. The health patrol will start by removing “junk” food from vending machines and cafeterias in public schools. Then, they will seek warning labels on high-calorie foods like candy and soda pop. They will ban high-calorie food producers from advertising through venues accessible to children. After that, they will place pressure on publicly financed sporting venues and government buildings to ban the sale and consumption of unhealthy foods – while simultaneously citing new scientific studies proving the link between Oreos and poor health. They will pressure city officials to levy a “junk food” tax on fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s and Burger King for serving products that clog America’s arteries. To top it all off, they will want city officials to tie the issuance of liquor licenses to the restaurant industry’s compliance with serving foods of some scientifically proven health value.

Suddenly, Ronald McDonald becomes the Marlboro Man.

Go ahead and laugh at me all you want, but ask your parents and grandparents if they ever imagined the regulation of tobacco products would start at warning labels and evolve into statewide smoking bans. Ask restaurant owners if they would accept government-dictated menus. Ask yourself if you would allow the government to determine whether you can eat a burger in your car when children are present.

I recommend that you rent “Thank You for Smoking” and discover the game played between the regulators and the industries they target. The last I checked, our government was built on a foundation of individual liberty. It is my understanding that liberty entails the freedom to choose what is best for you. Nick Naylor is right – we do have an obligation to educate our children about the dangers in life, not excluding the growing danger of invasive government. If we do our jobs as educators, the government won’t have to make choices for our children.

Stiglich can be reached at jcsgolf@umich.edu.

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