Another War on Drugs and on Certain Citizens
By Pierre Lemieux
“U.S. Raises Tobacco Buying Age to 21,” ran a Wall Street Journal title yesterday. This implies that a large chunk of American citizens are children, or that voting does not count. Or perhaps worse. (Forget that “tobacco” does not legally mean tobacco anymore, but whatever the Federal Drug Administration says the word means, such as e-cigarettes.)
Regarding the first alternative, it is absurd for the Public Health State to treat all individuals between 18 and 21 as children. As I wrote in a recent Reason Foundation paper,
The FDA calls indistinctly “youth,” “adolescent,” “child” or “kid” anybody from 12 through 17, but this group is not homogeneous. A 17-year-old, who can enroll in the army with his parents’ permission and is on the verge of having the right to vote (18 years of age at the federal level) and to reach the age of majority in many states, is certainly different from a 12-year-old child. Those whom the FDA considers “kids” can often be held criminally responsible for their actions. In many states, they can marry and in most states, they can be licensed to drive unsupervised from age 16 (the highest threshold is 17; the lowest, 14 and a half).
The second alternative—voting doesn’t matter—is true to the extent that a single vote does not count, for the probability that it will change the election result is (literally or nearly so) as low as the probability that, say, Donald Trump will walk through a section of the new steel wall on the Mexican border. But, of course, recognizing the right to vote to a few million children does have some effect.
Perhaps the worst alternative is that a common statement like the Journal’s (generally made without the constraint of a title’s length) is believed to be literally true. “The U.S.” means either part of the United States citizenry, and then the proper shorthand would be “the U.S. government”; otherwise, you are sowing confusion or falsehood. Or else “the U.S.” means the totality of the citizenry, and then all Americans unanimously agree to forbid some of them to do what the others may legally do. As Alice would have said, “curiouser and curiouser.”
Incidentally, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, mathematician Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll, was one of the independent discoverers of cycling or incoherence in voting results.
The proposed law has been voted by Congress and is apparently supported by the President. (Note in passing that he has not yet signed it, so the Wall Street Journal’s title looks more Fox-News than Wall-Street-Journal.) Let’s wait and see what happens, but don’t bet your life on political rationality or on the libertarian instinct of the political class.