Anti-Fast Food Crusade Replaying Anti-Smoking Strategy

Published September 1, 2004

For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health
by Jacob Sullum
($25.00 cloth, 352 pages, Free Press, 1998, ISBN: 0684827360)

The pushme-pullyu is at it again–only this one is far more dangerous than the fictional creature of Dr. Dolittle fame, which tried to walk in two opposite directions at once. A recent Forbes report detailed the continuing woes of states relying on tobacco bonds or settlement payments to help balance their bloated budgets. The bonds and payments rely on domestic tobacco sales, of course.

These are in decline, giving some state governments serious heartburn, especially states that guaranteed those bonds with the state’s general fund. Many states–including those feeling pain from the loss of tobacco-related revenue–relentlessly harass smokers, using means ranging from education to punitive taxes to outright bans on smoking, to try to curb use of what has become possibly the most politically incorrect legal substance of our time.

Several states subsidize tobacco farming while paying for anti-smoking educational campaigns and escalating health care costs caused by tobacco use.

The state nannies recently got a boost from four former U.S. surgeons general, who have called for a new federal tax of $2 per pack of cigarettes in an effort to force smokers to quit. (Presumably, this would be in addition to the existing state and federal taxes on tobacco products.) The surgeons general predict the tax would cause 5 million U.S. smokers to quit.

For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health, by Jacob Sullum, is a good stabilizer for minds spinning from all the contradictory messages the U.S. federal and state governments are sending regarding tobacco and smoking. As an added bonus, a four-page appendix lists and demolishes 10 myths of the anti-smoking movement.

For those who think the prohibitionist movement regarding tobacco is just a couple of decades old, Sullum’s thorough research proves otherwise. He also chronicles the continued bait-and-switch public health crusaders pull on tobacco companies, such as the well-known attempt to get cigarettes classified as “drug delivery systems” and thereby placed under the regulatory thumbscrews of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

For those new to the antics of attorney John Banzhaf, who is attempting to derail the fast food industry through personal injury lawsuits, Sullum recounts Banzhaf’s rise to prominence as an anti-tobacco crusader beginning in the 1970s.

For those who think the anti-smoking crusade is a battle between well-meaning public health activists and greedy, soulless tobacco corporations, Sullum exposes the real issue often obscured by such a portrayal: The press for “public health” measures of this sort leaves no room for either individual choice or individual responsibility.

Sullum notes that when the ability to make a choice is removed, the target behavior becomes more desired–especially for teens and other relatively rebellious individuals. Shifting the cost burden of choices onto groups rather than individuals (through taxes, higher insurance premiums, and regulations that collectivize health care) actually diminishes the negative consequences of poor choices on the individuals who make them.

Published in 1998, For Your Own Good remains an excellent primer on the history of tobacco nannying, and a clarion call for freedom of choice accompanied by individual responsibility.

Anyone seeking a vision of what “junk food” legislation and public health proposals for dealing with the “obesity crisis” are likely to bring will find Sullum’s book to be of great value. One need not be a smoker to appreciate the importance of the anti-tobacco crusade as a precedent for public health interference in personal behavior that is clearly not for our own good.

Sunni Maravillosa ([email protected]) is director of operations and Freedom Book of the Month editor at http://www.Free-Market.Net.