Another War on Drugs and Deplorables?
I have sometimes shocked intellectuals who claim to support Trump by telling them that they cannot be card-carrying Deplorables if they don’t meet three conditions: (1) driving a pickup truck; (2) regularly carrying a pistol; and (3) shopping at Walmart. Three more criteria should probably be added: (4) being a God-fearing Christian; (5) drinking; and (6) smoking.
Another war on drugs? Governments started one a couple of decades ago, the war on tobacco, which still goes on. And a third one was launched recently against non-tobacco “tobacco products” such as e-cigarettes, which contain nicotine but no tobacco.
Scott Gottlieb, the Food and Drug Administration commissioner who announced his resignation on March 5 (officially for family reasons) has been a strong warrior against tobacco and the legally defined “tobacco products” that contain no tobacco. If one loves bureaucratese and the Therapeutic State, one must enjoy what might be Gottlieb’s last press release, issued on March 13, and titled “Statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., on advancing new policies aimed at preventing youth access to, and appeal of, flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and cigars.”
The Deplorables come into the picture because the typical one is among the small number of remaining cigarette smokers and may even use e-cigarettes to help him quit. The FDA recognizes the well-known fact that “adults with education levels at or below the equivalent of a high school diploma have the highest smoking prevalence level.” Their children may also be among the e-cigarette smokers, which is not of course the worse thing that could happen to them.
The FDA’s press release explicitly invokes the support of President Trump (who shares very few, if any, of the Deplorable criteria I suggested above):
Specifically, today, with the strong support of the Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex M. Azar, and President Donald J. Trump, the FDA is proposing to end our current compliance policy as it applies to flavored electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS) products …
To “end the compliance policy” means it will become less tolerant by bureaucratic fiat. A few other quotes from the press release will give a better taste of its flavor:
We appeared poised to overcome one of the most pernicious public health challenges of our times—the death and disease caused by cigarette smoking. …
If current trends regarding youth use of ENDS [e-cigarettes or “electronic nicotine delivery systems” in propaganda-speak] products persist, the agency will change our [sic] approach. These increases in youth use must stop. …
We’ll take all appropriate actions necessary to stop these rates from increasing. …
Ultimately, we expect these steps designed to address flavors and protect youth will dramatically limit the ability of kids to access tobacco products we know are both appealing and addicting.
Note that “kids” include every person until his 18th birthday. “Youth” sometimes include people less than 25 years of age.
The 2,431-word release contains 15 “enforce” or “enforcement.” An economist will have problems finding any externality that justify such Rambo talk. As I will show in a forthcoming Reason Foundation paper, some economists within the FDA seem to take a more rational approach, which is sorely needed.
More health is better than less health, other things being equal. But other things are not equal and individuals do make trade-offs and should be left free to do so. I should perhaps issue a trigger warning and mention Robert Proctor’s book The Nazi War on Cancer (Princeton University Press, 1999), which I reviewed in the Fall 1999 issue of The Independent Review, with a brilliant title due to then editor Robert Higgs.