Cigarette Moralizing

Government Selects Graphic Photos to Deter Smokers

Since moralizing is to be foisted on cigarette companies, should photos of naked obese people be put on fast food packaging; horrific crash scenes on cars and alcohol; aborted fetuses at planned parenthood; horribly mamed and disfigured burn victims on your electric bill and at the gas pump; and awful tooth decay on candy an soda?

How can it be legal to force a producer of a legal product to place messages against the use of its products on the packaging? If anti abortion activists pulled this stunt it would be called legislating morality. What is it called when anti-smoking zealots do it? Goodness? And if so, why wouldn't it be called goodness if anti-abortion activists did it?

If morality is defined as principles of right or wrong behavior – and it is – then much of the law is legislated morality. Anti-slavery, abortion, flag burning, choice of light bulbs, taxation, welfare, corporate welfare, same sex marriage, education, environmentalism – the list is endless - are all impositions of morality.

But there are a fair number of people who think that the imposition of their mores is anything but legislating morality. If we ever say "such and such is right (or wrong), there should be a law," we are imposing our moral views on others.

Other than an opinion about the rightness and wrongness of the issue, on what basis does somebody tell another person that they have earned enough money? On what basis other than morality would money in excess of some arbitrary number be taken? And if we should decide to make a person work for the benefit of others because it is virtuous to help our fellow man, at what point does that become immoral? If we demand the work without payment wouldn't that become slavery? Wouldn't that be immoral? Similarly, if I demand payment without working would that not be theft and immoral? And is everything short of slavery moral? Why are minimum wage laws imposed? Why do workers unionize and expend such effort to secure higher wages and benefits? To satisfy their greed? Or because they think it is wrong to deny workers the fruits of their labor? And other than calling to some sense of morality, what does "doesn't pay their fair share" mean? Is fairness a moral concept? So clearly taxation, minimum wages and worker rights laws are legislating morality.

If limiting access to abortion is legislating morality, then limiting access to guns is as well. Whether or not one believes that either is a murderer's tool or an individual's right to choose.

Laws are the codification and imposition of mores on the public at large. Laws dictate our preferences for behavior to our fellow citizens. I am a bit perplexed when those who are busy lobbying for the imposition of their sense of right and wrong deny that they are legislating morality.

Using one accounting of the California cigarette tax as an example, the taxes on a pack of cigarettes were doled out as follows:

$0.10 to the general fund;

$0.02 to the Breast Cancer Research Fund;

$0.25 was divvied up between:
-tobacco-related health education programs and disease research;
-Medical and hospital care and treatment of patients who cannot afford those services, and for whom payment will not be made by any private coverage or federal program;
-and programs for fire prevention; environmental conservation; protection, restoration, enhancement, and maintenance of fish, waterfowl, and wildlife habitat areas; and enhancement of state and local parks and recreation.

$0.50 to programs that encourage proper childhood development, including the development of professional and parental education and training, informed selection of childcare, development and education of childcare providers, and research into the best practices and standards for all programs and services relating to early childhood development.

So by my reckoning, 71.2% of the money is used for non-tobacco related stuff. Some portion of the remaining 28.7% was used for tobacco-related health education programs and disease research – not care and treatment of tobacco related illness. The balance of that 28.7% was used for non-tobacco related stuff (unless some portion of the second item included some smokers that happened to be poor, without health insurance and did not receive any other federal public assistance thereby qualifying for that portion).

Again, there is a moral component here. Every tobacco user is compelled to contribute to these nice programs, but should that be the purpose of this sin tax? Is it moral to saddle tobacco users with a portion of the cost of maintaining fish, waterfowl and wildlife habitat? Especially since lower income people make up a higher percentage of smokers?

The point is that somebody thought it was ok – nay right and proper – nay nay moral – to take a portion of smoker's income to fund state parks. That is the imposition of moral conduct on, at least, the smoking population. (That is, if you agree that spending money on parks is a good thing.) Maybe a more moral position would have been to use all of the money to help defer the medical costs associated with smoking. At least it would have been relevant.

I'm just not certain that this is a right (read: moral) way to get the money for fish. And if the argument is "who cares what the money is used for as long as we use the tax system to eliminate the evil of smoking," then I am even more dubious. If the product is so detrimental, make it illegal. That would be more honorable by my way of thinking than using the tax code to eliminate morally objectionable behaviors. Or apply all of the tax as a user's fee to cover the cost of medical care for smokers.

Do you really want those that you don't agree with using the tax-it-out-of-existence device to go after something you agree with? Or would you rather they use moral suasion and not use the tax code to impose their ideas?

There is nothing wrong with being animated by moral concerns – we should all be. I am just lobbying for telling the truth about our intentions. I want to impose my sense of right and wrong on the political process and so does everybody else.

Many people try to frighten Americans by saying that some want to impose their morality on others. No kidding. All participants in politics want to impose on others as much of their morality as possible. To the degree they have their way, it will be through democratic processes. And one or the other's morality will prevail, and be imposed.

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