Freedom's Ashes

by Jeff Williams

What if Joe Camel had long hair and wore peace beads?

Perhaps you've noticed that tobacco companies are feeling a little nervous lately?
Tobacco Under Fire
Tobacco Under Attack

>From CNN Interactive: Before a landmark settlement was announced June 20, tobacco companies were fighting a two-front war. On one side, they were battling lawsuits from individuals and governments seeking damages for illnesses caused by smoking; on th e other, they were fighting increased government efforts to regulate their business. For decades, the industry has managed to defend both fronts successfully, with only minor losses. Suddenly, however, Big Tobacco appears to have negotiated a conditional peace.

It seems that in the constantly (and inconsistently) shifting political landscape of today, its hard to keep track of things. We have Bill Clinton rushing to bring nicotene under FDA jurisdiction, trying to eliminate advertising aimed at children and sporting events, and proposing more crackdowns on sales of tobacco to minors. On the other hand, we have the Republicans rushing to defend the tobacco companies such as Philip Morris, citing a free market right to smoke tobacco products, whether they are harmful and addictive or not.

Basically your usual standard D.C. tug-of-war, with Clinton on one end, and the Republicans on the other. Unfortunately, the Republicans appear to be missing their anchorman in this pull. Public sentiment seems to be favoring Clinton on this issue, lead ing one to believe that within the next ten years, major government restrictions may be placed on the manufacturing and sale of tobacco in the United States. We appear to be heading towards all-out tobacco prohibition at the current rate, despite the pro tests of conservatives smokers. and cigar aficionados like Rush Limbaugh.

So what's my take on it all? I call it simply...the next logical step. And ironically, the conservatives complaining about the banning of tobacco have absolutely nobody to blame except themselves.

It apparently seems to be another example of Bill Clinton attempting to be percieved as a conservative. Following the example of the two Republicans who preceeded him, Bill Clinton is attempting to insitute another zero-tolerance policy on the smoking of a plant. With Bush & Reagan, it was marijuana. With Clinton, its tobacco. A drug is a drug is a drug, apparently, and the 18th amendment rears its ugly head once again. "For the children" is the catch phrase of the 90's, but Bill Clinton is a quick l earner, and he learned that phrase from the Republicans. If you want an excuse to role back the rights of adults, say that you are doing it "for the children." It worked for Reagan and Bush with drugs, so why wouldn't it work for Clinton with tobacco?

Republicans didn't seem to let the fact that marijuana is no more addictive than milk get in their way of waging a war on that weed, so why should they complain when the Democrats follow suit on another?

Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders was run out of town partially for suggesting that some illegal drugs be legalized. Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop warned that tobacco is a dangerous drug and is actually a supporter of the current tobacco deal. Yet, K oop is a conservative darling, while Elders was conservative public enemy number one. One if left wondering, if marijuana had a million dollar lobbyist at the beginning of this century, if it would actually be legal today. Honesty is usually the best po licy. But in Washington D.C., honesty doesn't neccesary make the best policy when it comes to fund-rasing. Apparently, honesty is dangerous in Washington, especially when you don't have to raise funds for re-election.

So Rush Limabugh feels his freedoms and right to smoke a cigar is threatened by the government. Now you know how millions of others felt for years. At least Rush Limbaugh isn't headed to jail for the heinous crime of smoking a plant like hundreds of tho usands of other non-violent Americans currently reside. For a country that prizes its freedoms like we claim to, we certainly have a large number of people behind bars.

Tobacco prohibition is like a car speeding downhill with its brakelines cut. Eventually, it is going to come to a stop in a horrid wreck. But I don't understand what conservatives are belly-aching about. Not only did they cut those brake lines, they st arted the car rolling down the hill. Did they really think they could stop it half way down? Did they really think that they wouldn't be run over by it? Big government is still big government, and you can't open Pandora's Box and expect things to work out just fine. Bill Clinton may be acting like a conservative, but when it comes to drugs, Republicans do an even better job of acting like liberals.

So what's next? Conservatives enjoy making light of the entire situation by asking that very question. If the state has the power to tax, regulate, and possibly ban tobacco for health reasons, then what next? How long until the government regula tes fatty fast foods? Joe Camel today, Ronald McDonald tomorrow. It seems amusing to draw a line foward to make a point about the intrusion of government into our personal lives. But conservatives are only willing to draw that line forward, while refus ing to trace it back to its original source...the banning of other drugs, such as cocaine and marijuana. When the crackdowns on those drugs were proposed, why didn't anybody see that logically, tobacco would be next?

Conservatives don't like the current deal struck between the government and tobacco companies. They mock the millions that tobacco companies will have to pay to help cover the costs of medicare and medicaid. Maybe they wouldn't mind so much if the money was helped pay a fraction of the $15 billion we spend each year to fight the war on illegal drugs? After all, isn't tobacco the ultimate gateway drug? Smoking marijuana may lead to the use of harder drugs, but I'll bet that for most people, the first t aste of smoke came courtesy of the Marlboro Man.

Conservatives complain that the FDA doesn't have the authority to regulate tobacco. Really? Do they have the power to ban it outright then? That might be the next direction for the Democrats to turn. Does say, the Drug Enforcement Agency somehow draw its power from a different source than the Food and Drug Administration? The banning of cigarette vending machines is considered a serious government encroachment of rights, but the DEA is routinely allowed to ignore the 1st, 4th and 5th amendments?

Somebody please remind me why we are fighting the war on drugs. And after that, could somebody explain to the Republicans why we are fighting the war on tobacco? Amazingly enough, its the same reason. The same flawed argument doesn't make any mo re sense when you switch drugs.

In the November 1996 issue of Reason magazine, Jacob Sullum sums it all up in a piece called Weed Wackers.

The presidential race has turned into a war of weeds, a contest to determine which represents a greater threat to the youth of America: tobacco or marijuana. Bill Clinton, a former pot smoker, wants to crack down on cigarettes. Bob Dole, a former cigar ette smoker, wants to crack down on pot. Both propose to save the children by restricting the freedom of adults, and each accuses the other of inadequate concern.

Just another mixed-up day on the banks of the Potomac. Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

One of these days, the only things that people will be allowed to burn are our tax dollars. Certainly the most powerful drug known to man.