A fundamental tenet of freedom is the ability of an individual take to full responsibility for their own life decisions. Whether good decisions or poor ones, they are made by the individual. Libertarians believe any adult has the right to follow their own path, providing that those decisions harm no one else. That includes where you travel, how you shop, what you ingest—and, yes, even what you smoke.
Plans to begin banning the sale of some tobacco products have us thinking about another recent example of government overreach under the guise of protecting us from ourselves. In Chester County, some municipalities have determined that certain plastic materials may not be legally used within their borders. Setting aside the arguments that this view may be unscientific, pretends to solve problems that do not exist, or may even be environmentally harmful, the Libertarian view is that business owners and individuals can make their own determination about whether to use a plastic straw or grocery bag. We would argue that the mere fact that political action was even necessary proves that most constituents do not support these bans. With enough community support for discontinuation of the use of these plastics, a law forcing people to bring their own bags would not be needed.
Prohibiting plastic straws may be a stupid idea, and it is certainly an inconvenience, but a much more insidious proposal is currently being considered on a national level, again under the guise of protecting us from ourselves. This proposal concerns the banning of some tobacco products—a curious play after 4 decades of CDC-reported declines in cigarette use across the country.
It gets worse, however. The FDA does not plan to prohibit cigarettes or cigars as a whole; rather, it plans to make it illegal to sell just one flavor: menthol. Why single this minty version of the cigarette? Incredibly, the FDA has a racial rationalization. As it happens, the FDA believes people of color may prefer a mint flavor when they choose to smoke. The statement by acting Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Janet Woodcock is unbelievable: “FDA will help significantly reduce youth initiation, increase the chances of smoking cessation among current smokers and address health disparities experienced by communities of color, low-income populations and LGBTQ+ individuals, all of whom are far more likely to use these tobacco products.”
In other words, the government must protect minority populations because they are incapable of making good life decisions. This idea is abhorrent to Libertarians. The Libertarian Party has supported the rights of minority individuals for longer, and more consistently than any other political party. The idea that people of color require government intervention to make decisions for them is an outrageously racist interference in personal rights.
Government prohibitions constantly fail to achieve their intended result, but these laws happen to be excellent at creating something else: criminals. Prohibition was responsible for the rise of organized crime, and the war on drugs continues to make criminals out of thousands of users, leading to the incarceration of an outsized number of people of color.
The truth is, with this new ban, we can look forward to the unintended but predictable consequences of bad government, this time in the form of minty black-market cigarettes and—if the FDA’s stereotypes hold true—an increase in racial minorities in prison populations.
The Libertarian Party of Chester County promotes individual liberty for all residents of Chester County, Pennsylvania. The members are involved in volunteer activities throughout the community, and they work with local governments to ensure that laws and regulations conform to the state constitution. Their monthly meetings are open to the public, and are held at Timothy’s Restaurant in West Chester PA.
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