What then is freedom? The power to live as one wishes.
Marcus Tullius Cicero
In the latest efforts to control human behavior, the Nanny State has begun a push for low-nicotine cigarettes and what essentially amounts to a sin tax on sugary drinks. You heard that right: time to put down that butt and expect to pay through the nose for your Pepsi.
This may seem extreme, but it’s certainly not out of character. Various government entities of the U.S have long regulated behavior for what they claim to be best for the citizenry. While some laud these rules – which ostensibly leave us all healthier than before – that is only because they ignore two elementary facts. For one, they aren’t often effective. So-called sin taxes haven’t stopped tobacco or alcohol sales. Second, such laws – especially those that significantly reduce the freedom of citizens to choose their own lifestyles – are just plain unamerican.
The FDA is considering a maximum amount of nicotine in cigarettes that will make them far less addictive. Apparently, they’ve had the power to do so since 2009. According to FDA chief Scott Gotlieb, the move is part of a larger goal to prevent childhood smoking. The Houston Chronicle reports:
A renewed focus on nicotine can help us to achieve a world where cigarettes no longer addict future generations of our kids,” Gottlieb said in a speech to staff in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Tar and other substances inhaled through smoking make cigarettes deadly, but the nicotine in tobacco is what makes them addictive.
Keeping children from smoking is certainly admirable, but it’s not the government’s job. Individuals and parents should determine these types of behaviors. Besides, there are age restrictions in place that already don’t stop kids from smoking – though they impose stiff fines and possible jail time for any adult caught contributing.
In a more localized example, Chicago will implement a sweetened beverage tax Wednesday, August 2. The penny-per-ounce charge will apply to any pre-sweetened drink – sodas, sports drinks, even flavored water – sold in Cook County. Circuit Court Judge Daniel Kubasiak held the tax for one month while considering a lawsuit by area retailers that claimed it was unconstitutional. County attorneys argued that forcing people to pay more for these beverages would be effective in improving public health, and the Court eventually ruled in their favor. Retailers claimed that it wasn’t the tax per se that was the problem but rather that it was discriminatorily instituted since it exempted custom-made sweetened drinks, such as restaurant coffee and iced tea, rather than the overreaching nature of the tax itself.
The Illinois Retail Merchants Association is up in arms and considering an appeal to continue the fight. CNBC reports:
“We are disappointed with today’s ruling,” Rob Karr, president of IRMA, told reporters. “I can only imagine the outrage felt by consumers.”
That anger felt by consumers should be the real reason behind fighting these health regulations. Would the U.S. be a healthier country if everyone consumed far less refined sugar and tobacco? Sure, it would – but that’s not the point. As Americans, we expect the right to choose our own lifestyles – healthy or otherwise. We prove this every time we pay the “sin tax” to buy fountain drinks, beer, or tobacco. Those who wish to drink sugary drinks will pay more. Those who want to smoke – whether there’s nicotine in the cigarettes or not – will smoke just as much or likely more. We already have the choice not to consume these things, and so these half measures simply do not work. But the ever-looming, multi-tentacled Nanny State is not listening. Americans have proven time and again that they are perfectly willing to pay extra for their chosen poisons, though that isn’t the point either.
It’s not up to the government to play nursemaid and legislate our diets and vices. The Declaration of Independence lays out the purpose of government as to protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The collective authorities of the U.S. keep piling on the regulations – for our own good, of course – but the Nanny State seems to have forgotten that liberty is the pursuit of happiness.