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When Elections Are Not Elections

Teen smoking at record levels said a recent Denver Post headline, lack of tobacco education blamed. After almost a decade of the most concentrated attack on smoking in the last fifty years, the Post treats us to a news article consisting mainly of quotes from a spokesman for the American Heart Association with the nerve to claim that because the state of Colorado has no formal anti-smoking education programs or policies, even for our children, the critical messages about the dangers of tobacco are not getting through.[1]

Given that almost any Colorado school child, along with 97% of the adult population, can tell you that cigarettes are bad for your health, one wonders just what part of this critical message is not getting through.

The subtext, of course, is that we need to create another state program to save the children from the evils of smoking. Informed citizens might recall that the American Heart Association lobbied heavily for cigarette excise taxes in California and Massachusetts in the early 1990s and received substantial funding from both states when the taxes passed. It tried and failed to create a similar revenue stream in Colorado in 1992.[2] Judging from these statements, it still harbors hopes here.

The Post article did not mention that claims of rising teen smoking generally rely on the reconstructed survey data generated by the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse and by the Monitoring the Future Study. Both surveys suggested increases in teen smoking beginning in 1992.[3]

But before 1992, teen smoking dropped steadily from 1962 to 1988 despite the supposed lack of formal anti-smoking programs. Anti-smoking efforts have been particularly intense since 1992, coinciding with the period in which youth smoking rates are said to have risen. The Post article did not mention that some researchers are asking whether too much formal education increases smoking by encouraging rebellious teens to demonstrate their independence by lighting up.

In short, readers of the Post lacked some facts that might have been important in assessing the need for this particular government program. This is an increasing problem in mainstream journalism. Since 1962, polls have suggested that the majority of the media elite identify with leftist causes,[4] and as the reporting on the Clinton administration has made clear, at least some of its members see no difference between reporting and advocacy. Now that one can no longer trust the mainstream to presents all the facts, staying informed now requires that one read outside it.

What follows is a short guide to some of the alternative terrain for general readers who want to widen their perspective.

On a daily basis there is no better place to start than the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal. Arguably the best in America, it features articles by experts who routinely challenge accepted opinion. The constantly changing mix of topics keeps one informed of new developments in politics, economics, foreign policy, education, science, and the culture.

Those who prefer weekly news magazines might consider the London Economist. Widely known for superb reporting on business, economics, and foreign affairs, The Economist has invaluable science and technology sections. Each year also brings a number of in-depth (10-20 page) surveys on subjects such as individual countries, international banking, social insurance, and the effects of technological innovation. Published in Britain, its foreign emphasis gives a unique, often hilarious, perspective on happenings in the United States.

National Review, which comes out every other week, tracks national politics and public policy. It has good book and movie reviews, often trenchant social commentary, a very funny series called Letters from Al, and the inimitable Florence King. American Spectator, a monthly, features longer articles in a muckraking spirit. In the last few years it has devoted itself to exposing government corruption, a vast, generally unexplored, terrain.

If your time is limited, consider The American Enterprise. Currently published six times a year, each issue includes an in-depth treatment of a particular policy question along with general news, reviews, poll results, and summaries of new publications. Recent subjects have included race in America, the desirability of daycare, the boom in academic liars, and a look at what political correctness is doing to the education at America#39;s military academies.

There are concrete rewards for becoming better informed. Ignorance is bliss to those who live on other people#39;s money. They manufacture crisis after crisis in an effort to scare the socks off the uninformed, and live happily ever after on the cash flows created to prevent the doom they prophesy. Having a wider perspective quashes the urge to open one#39;s wallet whenever some group mounts a campaign for yet another unnecessary, budget-busting, program. By exposing manufactured crises for what they are, it reduces stress, alleviates anxiety, and has the signal virtue of promoting a better night#39;s sleep.

[1] Cindy Brovsky. 1 January 2000. Teen Smoking at record levels, The Denver Post, p 4B.

[2] James T. Bennett. 1996. The National Cancer Institute and Colorado#39;s Project ASSIST, Alternatives in Philanthropy. Washington, D.C.:The Capital Research Center. www.capitalresearch.org/ap/ap-0296a.html as of 1 January 2000.

[3] Peter VanDoren. Summer 1997. Trends in Youth Smoking, Regulation, Washington DC: The Cato Institute, pp. 65-68.

[4] Paul Sperry. 31 December 1999. Old Media Ask: Bias What Bias Investor#39;s Business Daily, p. A1.

Linda Gorman is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, Colorado, https://i2i.org. This article originally appeared in the Colorado Daily (Boulder), for which Linda Gorman is a regular columnist.

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