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It Isn't About Kids, And It Isn't About Tobacco

Opinion Editorial
November 9, 1998

By Linda Gorman

From the Rocky Mountain News, Nov. 9, 1998

One of the remarkable aspects of the anti-smoking hysteria is the extent to which it has been bankrolled by huge foundations with extremist public policy agendas. One constantly hears about all the money that tobacco companies spend on the issue. One never hears about the millions spent by the big non-profits. They want their share of the additional wealth and power that more tobacco regulation would funnel into government hands, and they are willing to spend big bucks to get it.

In 1993, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJ) spent $10,000,000 on SmokeLess States, a program to create coalitions of activist groups at the state level. In 1996 it added another $20,000,000 to “fund tobacco control initiatives in 30 states and two cities.” In 1996, $20,000,000 more was appropriated to start the National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids.

In 1995, the foundation spent $2,500,000 on a pilot program called Smoke-Free Families to develop “electronic tracking of women across preconception, prenatal, and postpartum settings.” The “Addressing Tobacco in Managed Care” program spent $6,760,000, presumably to teach HMOs force their clients to stop. A whopping $20,500,000 was earmarked to develop “detailed community-level databases” on youth tobacco, alcohol, and “other drug use.”

Colorado shared in this wealth. In 1994, the year the $.50 a pack cigarette tax hike was on the ballot, the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Colorado received $1,000,000 from Smokeless States for an “educational” campaign. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, itself a beneficiary of millions of dollars from RWJ, even contributed taxpayer money and staff time to the campaign. That this violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the law prohibiting state government from participating in issues before the electorate, bothered its officials not at all.

Is Robert Wood Johnson spending this kind of money because it really thinks that more regulation, more taxes, and more education will make a difference? Only if it is ignorant of the data already out there, which it undoubtedly is not. It can’t argue that people don’t know that smoking shortens life. Cigarettes have been called coffin nails since the turn of the century, and surveys suggest that Americans routinely over-estimate the dangers of smoking.

It can’t argue that cigarettes are addictive drugs. Center for Disease Control figures show that the U.S. has more former smokers than smokers and that 90 percent of the former smokers gave up the habit on their own. Nor can it argue that smokers harm others via second hand smoke. Though it failed to find any strong evidence that passive smoke increases health risks, the latest World Health Organization study on passive smoke found strong evidence that childhood exposure to cigarette smoke cuts the risk of lung cancer by 22 percent.

It can’t argue that cigarette taxes should be increased to make up for the costs that smokers impose on what it likes to call “society” (and others call the government’s coffers) because smokers pay more than their fair share. Shorter lives result in savings from lower Social Security and pension costs. Those savings exceed the costs that smokers impose by 23 to 53 cents per pack.

They can’t even argue that people want more taxes and regulation. Americans generally believe in letting people go to perdition in their own fashion as long as they don’t harm others. And tobacco taxes hit the poor hardest. Smokers who earn less than $10,000 a year pay roughly 13 times more of their income in tobacco taxes than those who earn $50,000 or more a year. Laws already exist to keep smokers from blowing smoke other people’s faces and to prohibit tobacco sales to kids.

Such spending makes sense only when one realizes that tobacco offers the foundation a quicker route to its utopian vision of socialized medicine. If tobacco, along with alcohol, obesity, depression, stress, violence, and anxiety can be said to harm “health,” then government must step in to control individuals’ behavior for their own good. Because pregnant women might smoke and smoking is bad, millions should be spent to track their tobacco use before, during, and after pregnancy. From there, it is easy to add tracking of other “bad” things. This has happened in Minnesota, where RWJ functionaries have godfathered perhaps the most centralized health care system in the country. There, proposed “health” questionnaires, under the guise of risk management, ask whether one has a gun in the house. In the socialist equation, guns equal violence, and violence is a “health” risk. No doubt one’s weight, and the foods one eats, will soon follow.

This also explains why RWJ, through the Tobacco-Free Kids program, bankrolled recent attack ads claiming that Senators Allard and Campbell voted against a nationwide policy to “protect” kids from “tobacco addiction.” Of course they did. This isn’t about kids, and it isn’t about tobacco. It’s about government control of your life.

Linda Gorman is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute.

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.
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