President Barack Obama expects to receive and sign quickly into law today legislation imposing federal regulation on cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco products.
This odd measure is a harbinger of the hypocrisy and contradictions we can expect in the socialized medicine legislation Democrats aim to impose this year.
The arguments against tobacco are familiar. Each year 400,000 Americans die from “smoking-related” disease but, as The New York Times asserts, “Cigarettes remained less regulated than cosmetics or pet food” before this new measure.
This new law will give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration powers to regulate and to ban the flavorings and other cigarette ingredients that combust into 4,000 different chemicals, including some known carcinogens, that smokers inhale with each puff.
The legislation authorizes research into whether to ban menthol, the flavoring that three of every four African-American smokers choose.
But then, buried 10 paragraphs deep in its story, The Times mentions a revealing fact about this legislation:
“[W]hile the F.D.A. could mandate a reduced level of nicotine, an addictive chemical, the law expressly says the agency cannot ban it.” (Emphasis added)
Huh? If smoking kills nearly half a million Americans each year, and if nicotine is what keeps smokers hooked, why not just remove the hook from these cancer sticks?
“Public health advocates say outlawing nicotine would force addicts [to] turn to a black market or other sources," according to The Times
First, let's correct an error in what The Times reported. Nicotine is not “addictive” in the strict scientific sense; it is “severely habituating,” the difference being that nicotine requires no ever-increasing dose as addictive substances do.
This is no mere quibble. It exposes a frequent error by anti-tobacco activists, who claim that tobacco companies “add nicotine” to their products to keep smokers and chewers hooked.
If anything, the opposite would be true. A cigarette smoker will settle at a satisfying nicotine dose level — on average one and one-half packs per day for the one in five Americans who smokes — and stay at that level of consumption for years, even decades.
If tobacco companies added nicotine to their products, then the average craving for nicotine would be satisfied by smoking fewer cigarettes, meaning less profit for cigarette makers.
The path to more profit would be by selling less nicotine per cigarette, thereby forcing smokers to light up more to get their daily “fix.”
This new law opens the way for government to require less nicotine per cigarette – which will cause more smoking and more inhalation of the other 3,999 chemicals in cigarettes. It is a path to greater illness, not less.
Ah, but who is the biggest profiteer from cigarettes? Government.
State governments make more than $19 billion per year from tobacco excise and sales taxes, more than three times what they rake in from alcohol beverage taxes.
On April 1 the federal government upped its excise tax take from cigarettes to more than $1 a pack, justifying the increase to foot the $32.8 billion bill for the State Children's Health Insurance Program.
Who pays these taxes? The answer is mostly the poor and lower middle classes, the segment of society that smokes most.
Cigarette levies "are one of the most regressive taxes . . . probably the most regressive of the federal taxes,” says Jane Gravelle, senior specialist in economic policy at the Congressional Research Service.
So the Democratic president and ruling lawmakers who promised no new taxes on Americans earning less than $250,000 a year once again are socking it to poor voters fooled by Democratic smoke and mirrors.
Does this new law mean that more poor people will die from smoking? Yes.
But in the collectivist view of welfare state socialists, these premature deaths will reduce the long-term burden on Medicare and Social Security. Smoking deaths save the government money while raking in more than $50 billion each year in tax revenue.
The only risk to government is that poor people might be unable to afford the more habituating cigarettes this new law will produce. April's federal tax increase was projected to cut smoking in the country by 7 percent — a loss the Democrats apparently hope their lower-nicotine cigarettes will offset.
If lawmakers genuinely believed their own propaganda about the health hazards of smoking and cared about their citizens, they would outlaw tobacco as they have marijuana.
But politicians, sadly, care far more about their own tax revenue than they do about us, so tobacco taxes keep rising, now in concert with this new law cynically designed to force those handicapped by nicotine habituation to buy more cigarettes than ever.
Democratic politicians apparently are hooked themselves on nicotine taxes and more than willing to sacrifice the lives and health of their own poor constituents to squeeze more money out of them.
In California, these politicians are even willing to consider legalizing marijuana if — and only if — they can extract billions in annual taxes out of its legal sales.
This same health-destroying, wealth-destroying pattern is writ large in the Democratic Party's push to impose socialized medicine.
Until now, Medicare and other government programs and mandates to provide medical care have survived by grossly underpaying doctors and hospitals — typically reimbursing hospitals 71 percent and doctors 81 percent of what private insurers pay.
Cost shifting has made up this loss. That's why you pay $10 for a single aspirin in the hospital and a fortune for private insurance.
But now President Obama wants to tax you and your insurer to pay for a competing government program that will undercut private insurers and drive them out of business.
When this Democratic socialist system triumphs, the only way it can remain solvent is by rationing the healthcare you receive. Cigarette, anyone?
Lowell Ponte is co-host of the radio show “Night-Watch,” heard live nationwide M-F 10 P.M.-Midnight Eastern Time on gcnlive.com.
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