Testimony of Jeffrey Trigg
before the Subcommittee on Cessation
Interagency Committee on Smoking and Health
a government agency, under the auspices of the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
created to coordinate the anti-tobacco efforts
of various federal agencies
December 3, 2002
My name is Jeffrey Trigg.
I am here today, before the Subcommittee on Cessation of the Interagency Committee on Smoking and Health, as an associate of The Heartland Institute, which made it possible for me to participate in this public forum by paying my travel and lodging expenses.
The Heartland Institute is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1984 and based in Chicago. It provides research and information on many public policy issues. Heartland’s Web site, at http://www.heartland.org, includes an “issue suite” titled The Smoker’s Lounge, which offers research and commentary on secondhand smoke, smoking bans, and other issues concerning tobacco.
My personal interest in attending this forum is two-fold. First, I have been a regular smoker since age 17, so the proposals you are discussing here will affect me directly. Also, as an officer of the Libertarian Party of Illinois, I have a continuing interest in the role government plays in people’s lives.
Public Policy and Tobacco
Personal tobacco use, and the government’s efforts to control it, raises many public policy concerns. I am troubled, for example, by the use of taxation for social engineering–a purpose I doubt the Founding Fathers had in mind. Government attempts to regulate tobacco advertising appear to me to be an infringement on First Amendment rights.
I cannot find among the enumerated powers of the federal government set forth in the U.S. Constitution the responsibility or the authority to accomplish the anti-tobacco goals being discussed here today. The Constitution does not, however, similarly limit what state or local governments can do. According to its mission statement, the first priority of the Office on Smoking and Health is “expanding the science base of tobacco control.” Its second priority is “building capacity to conduct tobacco control programs.” As I understand these statements, the mission of the Office on Smoking and Health is to develop evidence that will justify giving government control over people who legally choose to use tobacco.
This mission is profoundly disturbing. It seeks to deprive law-abiding individuals of their Constitutionally protected right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, solely because they choose to engage in a type of individual behavior that hurts no one but themselves. It also seeks to deprive us of our money, because clearly the Office on Smoking and Health seeks to increase its funding by taking money out of the pockets of hard-working, tax-paying Americans.
In fact, most of the speakers today have testified, either directly or indirectly, that they need more funding for their various anti-tobacco programs. But taxpayers should not be forced to endure even higher taxes to fund these programs. Anti-tobacco groups should be made to seek their funding from the private sector, just as The Heartland Institute and other nonprofit organizations must do.
Stifling Information Flow
Many government agencies, and many of the anti-tobacco groups represented here, seek to control what information tobacco companies can convey to their customers. This not only violates the First Amendment’s protection of free speech, but it also keeps essential–perhaps life-saving–information from tobacco users.
Government restrictions on advertising mean the tobacco industry is prohibited by law from sharing with tobacco users information about the risks their habits pose to their health. This misinforms tobacco consumers in a way that is no less dishonest and dangerous than the advertising claims for which the tobacco industry has been sued.
Courts have determined the tobacco industry lied about the potential health hazards of tobacco use. Is it any better that the government is now lying, by refusing to allow the industry to share information about the many ways tobacco users can reduce the health risks they face short of total abstinence?
Quitting is certainly the best solution, and every smoker will agree with that. Nevertheless, not every smoker wants to quit entirely, and the health benefits of cutting back or switching to smokeless tobacco are real and considerable. Smokers deserve to see accurate information that compares the health risks posed by different nicotine-delivery systems. We should be free to decide to smoke and free to enjoy smoking.
Everybody in America knows the best way to reduce the harm of tobacco is not to use it. Beyond that, tobacco users are terribly uninformed about harm-reducing alternatives.
How much could a smoker reduce his health risk by switching from non-filtered Camels to Merit Ultra-Lights? Or by switching from Marlboros to cigars, a pipe, or even smokeless tobacco? How much better off would a smoker be if she reduced her habit from two packs a day to half-a-pack? How do nicotine lollipops and nicotine water compare, and could they be less harmful than smoking? Honest answers to such questions as these could be just as important, if not more important, to the average smoker’s health than constant admonitions to quit.
Restrictions on comparative health claims in ads for tobacco products should be lifted, so tobacco users can make fully informed decisions. Tobacco companies can and should be held accountable for the accuracy of the information; we already have many laws on the books prohibiting false advertising claims. Personally, I’d like to see a chart displayed at counters in gas stations and convenience stores comparing the potential risks associated with different tobacco or nicotine products. I want to know what snuff is, how it is used, and how much I could reduce the risks to my health if I switched to snuff instead of smoking.
No discussion of tobacco public policy would be complete without a discussion of tobacco taxes. Simply put, tobacco tax increases are unfair and excessive. Real families–most of them low-income to begin with–are being hurt by these taxes. They have less money to pay their bills, less money for vacations, and less money to save for their own retirement or their kids’ college educations. Tobacco taxes mean they have less money to pursue happiness.
Using taxes for social engineering is wrong. I am deeply troubled by the idea that persons elected to office to represent me are trying to manipulate lives this way. They are doing real harm to these families, and that is not what they were elected to do. And I find it terribly ironic that, while tobacco users are being penalized by confiscatory taxes, tobacco farmers are being subsidized by tax dollars as well. The government ought to get itself out of both sides of that economic equation.
Here in Illinois, state lawmakers recently decided smokers ought to pay for their legislators’ overspending habits. The budget was balanced, at least on paper and temporarily, thanks to money from the tobacco settlement and a cigarette tax hike. Tobacco taxes were increased under the guise of saving tobacco users’ lives, but if the state really wanted people to quit, why increase the state’s reliance on tobacco tax revenues?
Even if that logical inconsistency could be explained away, there remains the fact that tobacco taxes are not being used to pay for smokers’ health care as state lawmakers said they would be. Many others at this hearing today have testified to that fact. Instead, tobacco taxes are pouring into the general fund, out of which the state subsidizes the horse racing industry (with $40 million), the City of Chicago’s professional football team ($700 million for Solder Field renovation), and countless other pork barrel programs.
Governments at all levels should stop trying to control the tobacco habits of their citizens. They should stop trying to control the flow of essential information from the tobacco industry to its consumers. And they should keep their hands out of the pockets of smokers.
This room is filled with well-intentioned people with wonderful hearts, many of whom I believe are genuinely concerned about the health of tobacco users. But no one in this room has the right to force someone else to quit. While I applaud the private and nonprofit efforts to help tobacco users give up their habits, that is not the proper role of government, and those groups have no right to use the authority of government or tax dollars to bolster their efforts.
Thank you for allowing me to testify before you today. I welcome the opportunity to answer any questions you may have.
Jeffrey Trigg is a research associate of The Heartland Institute and an officer of the Libertarian Party of Illinois.