Pubdate: Tue, 1 Aug 2000
Source: San Francisco Examiner (CA)
Copyright: 2000 San Francisco Examiner
Author: Paul Mulshine
Note: Paul Mulshire is a columnist with The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.
Cited: The Cato Institute:


The other day I was talking to an old friend of mine who has had his 
problems with drugs over the years.  He's stopped using most of them, but 
there's one drug that he just can't kick.

"I swear, Paul, I get a bigger rush out of this than I used to get out of a 
line of coke," he told me as he took another deep drag on his cigarette.

My friend was under no illusions about his addiction.  Perhaps that's 
because he knows a lot more about drugs than certain conservatives I could 
name.  These guys are always ranting about morality, family values and the 
need to prevent drug abuse.  But when it comes to reducing abuse of the 
deadliest drug out there, all of a sudden these conservatives are outraged.

This outrage always follows the same pattern, as was evidenced by the 
reaction of many conservatives to the recent Florida class-action suit that 
resulted in a $144.8 billion judgment.  That verdict was indeed evidence of 
a problem with the legal system, but the problem centers on the concepts of 
class-action suits and punitive damages.  Both are bad ideas.

As for the idea of punishing a company for purposely getting minors 
addicted to a drug and also lying about that drug's effects, I fail to see 
a valid conservative objection.  The courts do far worse things every day 
to those who sell other recreational drugs, yet the conservative 
commentators of the world somehow manage to contain their outrage.

But when the drug in question is nicotine, conservatives join as one to 
defend the drug pusher.
The columns and editorials in which they do so have all the imagination of 
a form letter.  There are two buzzwords that appear in every one of them: 
"legal product" and "hamburger."

Here are two excerpts from a recent column by Cal Thomas on the Florida 
"If the government will now determine whether a company deserves to be 
punished when people use its legal products, we might reasonably ask where 
this will stop."

"Some people suffer heart problems from their food addictions.  Should 
fast-food companies which advertise high-in-fat hamburgers be sued when a 
customer suffers arterial blockage and dies from a heart attack?"

Do a Web search on tobacco articles and you will see this pattern repeated 
over and over again.
As a conservative, I have to say I'm embarrassed by it.  It seems to me 
that the point of being a conservative is to consider each issue 
critically.  Simply repeating propaganda from the Tobacco Institute is not 

And especially when the propaganda is so transparently bogus.  Substitute 
the more accurate term "legal drug" for "legal product" and the whole 
debate changes.  All the other recreational drugs are illegal.  The 
exceptions are caffeine, which has been proven harmless, and alcohol, which 
is not strictly speaking a drug and which is highly regulated.

As for the hamburger argument, it shows an ignorance of both nutrition and 
logic.  For one thing, hamburgers are not particularly high in fat.  They 
have lots of protein, vitamins and minerals, too.  In moderation, 
hamburgers are not only harmless, they're good for you.  Food is essential 
to life.

Drugs aren't, and nicotine is a drug.  Getting it into your brain through 
smoking has nothing in common with eating and everything in common with 
doing cocaine, although, as my friend noted, it can be more pleasurable for 
many people.

That gets to the central bit of nonsense being peddled here.  The tobacco 
defenders -- Cal Thomas, George F.  Will and the Wall Street Journal 
editorial page, among others -- are puritans when it comes to other 
recreational drugs.  They argue that it is bad to get pleasure from drugs.

There is something to be said for this argument, but it is the exact same 
argument that led society to ban all those other recreational 
drugs.  Cigarettes were banned in 14 states at the beginning of the 20th 
century, a time when both opium and cocaine were legal.  Then in 1914 
Congress passed the Harrison Act, which banned opium and 
cocaine.  Marijuana wasn't banned until 1937.

A study by the free-market Cato Institute titled "Thinking About Drug 
Legalization" (available at notes that at the time those 
other drugs were banned they were causing only minor social problems and 
few serious health problems.  Since then, we've learned a lot more about 
which drugs are truly dangerous.  Tobacco kills more than 400,000 people a 
year while heroin and cocaine kill fewer than 1,000.

So if we're in the business of banning drugs, it's time to update the laws.

"What ought to bother us as Americans is that, once again, government has 
intruded on individual choice," Thomas writes.

It's been doing that since 1914.  Why hasn't he noticed before?
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake