On the Other Hand...

The First Amendment, Up In Smoke

by Jim Davies

The riproaring enthusiasm with which all the media greeted the recent news that the tobacco industry has been bullied into virtually closing down its main business, has obscured a number of vital facts - from me too, I'm ashamed to say. I recognized them only after receiving a Press Release from one of the few honest watchdogs left in our society, the Libertarian Party.

A heavy smokescreen has been laid down to prevent us all seeing what is really going on, so I hope you'll join me in congratulating the LP for finding a way to see through it. Later, I'll relate the key things the Release revealed.

First, the excuse for persecuting the barons of smoke has been that they knew their products were dangerous to health and yet concealed that knowledge, and went on selling them - with advertisements implying that smoking is healthy and even athletic. Now, to the extent that that is true, I'd say it's actionable. If a person was persuaded to take poison by false and misleading advertising, that looks to me like a reasonable foundation for a damage suit.

But that's not at all the whole story. Very soon after a link between cancer and cigarettes was suspected, the Feds obliged manufacturers to print on every carton a message from their Surgeon General, to the effect that smoking them is a DANGER to health. So quite plainly, any such damage lawsuit would fail, in any fair court of law, run by a jury; for there in plain view the buyer is told that any impression he may have gained about smoking being healthy is, at least in the opinion of that "expert", not true. End of case! The buyer/smoker was warned clearly at the vendor's expense that the product was or might be poisonous, and he went ahead and used it anyway. So why is he now wasting all our time by bleating in Court?

Interesting, that such lawsuits would have had plenty of merit, if those warning notices had NOT been printed on every carton and billboard. It would not surprise me one bit to learn that, at the time they were to be mandated, government and manufacturers went into a (smoke-filled) room and willingly colluded together; that the apparently crippling warning label was in fact a license, printed by the Feds, for the manufacturers to go ahead and poison people despite their growing knowledge that their product is dangerous! And if that is so, the present persecution is the sound of the politicians renaging on their disgusting deal of decades ago, just to obtain additional votes.

Deadly Settlement

What the current "deal" will do, according to the LP Release, is first to transfer $368 billion from the tobacco industry to governments, Federal and State. Now, how does that make you feel? - who in your opinion is likely to do more damage with $368 billion; tobacco manufacturers, who are utterly powerless to force anyone to use their product who doesn't wish to; or government, which has and daily uses a power to force us to do anything it wants us to do?

I tell you, I've just found a new and powerful reason not to smoke. If the manufacturers don't have $368 billion, they won't be able to hand it over.

But that's just the start. Here's Steve Dasbach, quoted in the Release: "The settlement establishes a perilous precedent: that the government can levy massive punitive damages against a popular product because of the so-called public health consequences." He asks "Who's next?" and points out that next on the Federal ravagers' list could be fast-food makers (the burgers are too fatty), a whole range of different sports (hang-gliding is dangerous to your health), alcohol (again!!), or perhaps even just getting a sun tan!

He's right, the precedent is awesome. If you let your Congressman get away with ratifying this one-sided deal, "once the government has total power to punish or prohibit personal habits in the name of public health, it's only a matter of time before you're their next target. Thanks to this settlement, your right to choose [almost anything] may go up in smoke."

Even that's not at all the end of it. The worst aspect of this by far, says the Libertarian Party, is its "all-out assault on free speech... in their frenzy to control tobacco, politicians want the power to drastically restrict the First Amendment." Apart from its split infinitive, that is magnificent!

Face it, folks. There isn't a Republicrat politician extant who truly cares a fig for anything but the power he can acquire or keep. The Feds don't give a hoot for how many smokers die of cancer, nor about how many kids OD on crack. They never have, never will. What they very urgently care about is their own power, prestige and above all their re-election; and they will do whatever it takes to get it. If voting parents fear drugs, outlaw them; if some smoking voters want revenge, find a way to punish the vendor. If there is an outcry about the budget, balance it; but take the utmost care to balance it HIGH, and only long after the present incumbents have left office. And most of all, sieze any and every opportunity to prevent the voter learning what you're really up to; hence, praise the First Amendment while nickel and diming it to death.

This "settlement" prevents cigarette makers advertising on billboard or PC, forbids them to sponsor sports events, place their products on TV or in movies, or even sell clothes that feature their brand names. Now read the First Amendment, and weep: "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press..." "Abridged"? - how about, burned to smoke and ashes?

There are, I hear, 50 million Americans who smoke. I'm not one of them, I don't like cigarette smoke, but just imagine: faced with an outrage like this, suppose all those 50 million were to join the Libertarians tomorrow morning (the address is 2600 Virginia Ave NW Ste 100, Washington, DC 20037.) Fifty million votes at the next election would not just be enough to control the balance of power, it would sweep the next election! The long night of declining personal liberty would be over - not just in smoking, but in every other way too. Just in time for the new millenium, the obscene and over-reaching power of government in America would be terminated. Freedom would face a new dawn.

© Copyright Jim Davies 1999

Jim Davies lives in New Hampshire,
and enjoys contemplating which way is up.

The above is Edition # 213

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