Scott Tibbs
Published in Hoosier Review, 11-29-1998

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Tobacco deal un-American

Over the past few years, we have seen our state governments engage in one of the most blatant acts of extortion in recent memory. In their "deal" with the tobacco industry, they have taken an industry that sells a completely legal product and extorted money from it in the name of "public health." But lost in this crusade against this substance is any notion of personal responsibility.

The tobacco deal's corrosive effect on personal responsibility can be seen in the cries of victim hood by former tobacco users who have sued the tobacco companies. These people knew the risks of using a substance with a carcinogenic effect, yet used it anyway. And while we all feel sorry for those who have developed cancer due to tobacco, why must the tobacco companies pay their medical bills? After all, tobacco is a legal product, and the former smokers knew full well of the dangers of using that substance well before they became sick. The tobacco companies did nothing illegal. But the plaintiffs, instead of taking responsibility for their own actions, instead decided it was the evil tobacco companies who were responsible for their own self-destructive behavior.

But it is the state governments who have really used this as a cash cow. When they saw the smaller civil suits, many state governments filed their own lawsuits, hoping to force the tobacco companies to pay for the costs smoking related illnesses have attributed to Medicaid and Medicare. By doing this, the states feed the notion that people are not responsible for their own actions. It isn't the smokers' fault, after all, that they got sick from what they knew was a dangerous substance? Instead, it was the fault if the company that sold it to them.

But if tobacco were really as bad as everyone says it is, why not ban it? The reason is simple: tobacco is a huge source of revenue for the government. The states managed to extort $206 billion from the tobacco companies, to be used on all sorts of government programs. The states managed to get the tobacco money by using a method that can only be described as extortion. By threatening lawsuits, the states knew they could make the tobacco companies lose money even if they won the lawsuit due to legal fees. The tobacco companies, facing a no-win situation, caved in to this extortion and paid the money. Indiana alone is expected to get $4 billion from the deal. When you can get so much money from an industry via extortion, why should you make their product illegal?

In addition, the tobacco deal has provided a way for the government to raise taxes in a way that is less offensive to the average taxpayer. By taxing cigarettes, lawmakers can levy a "sin tax," affecting only the behavior they are attempting to regulate. This raises to points: First, what business is it of the government to regulate the behavior of individuals consuming a perfectly legal substance? Second, with tax rates already exorbitantly high, why should the government be raising taxes in any form, especially when tobacco taxes fall hardest on lower-income Americans?

But more disturbing about this deal is the precedent it sets for how government is to deal with other industries. In the future, government can simply decree a perfectly legal product to be "unsafe," and extort billions of dollars from the makers of that product, raising the price for those who use the product.

This is especially worrisome to people concerned with second amendment rights. We have already seen the city of Chicago file a lawsuit against gun manufacturers over the fact that guns are used in crime, and one can easily see a $200 billion firearms deal on the horizon. Government expansionists, unable to restrict second amendment rights through legislation, may use legal extortion to accomplish what they could not via legislation. This can be repeated on any product that the great Government deems "unsafe," from Sports Utility Vehicles to red meat. We have even seen the airlines forced to establish "peanut free zones" so people with peanut allergies won't be forced to inhale second hand peanut fumes.

There is no product to insignificant, nor any industry too small, to avoid this new wave of legislation by litigation. And our freedom is at stake.