Is anyone else out there as sick and tired of the government’s anti-smoking crusading as I am?

I never smoked for 40 years of my life, but I now enjoy a good cigar. I’m sure part of the psychological appeal is the political incorrectness of it all — the defiance of authority the act of smoking now represents.

At the very moment in history when more people are giving up cigarettes than ever before, all we hear about is how addictive smoking is — how it’s impossible to quit, at least without the government’s help.

Everytime some super-nanny like C. Everett Koop of Joycelyn Elders tells me not to smoke, I get a nicotine craving like you wouldn’t believe. It’s almost a Pavlovian response. Just thinking about it gives me an irresistible urge to light up. Just a minute. I’ll be right back. Ahhhh. That’s better.

Who do these people think they are? Do they realize this country’s heritage of freedom was, to a great extent, financed by tobacco farmers? Have we lost all regard for personal freedom in America? Do they really think there’s anyone left who doesn’t understand the inherent dangers of filling your lungs with smoke on a regular basis? Do we all need to be treated like children?

The kind of creeping, Fabian fascism I described in this column two weeks ago was never better illustrated than in the recent agreement between the tobacco companies and government officials.

The tobacco companies can hardly be faulted for watching out for their own best interests. They’re under siege — faced with countless lawsuits and a growingly antagonistic approach from all levels of government and the courts.

So, for them, the negotiated settlement to pay $368 billion in legalized extortion over the next 25 years probably looks pretty good. It’s a way to fix their costs — even if they are a little higher.

For the government, it’s another way to grab power and money. Let’s face it, the anti-tobacco crusaders aren’t doing anything with this agreement to stop the tobacco industry. This is about cutting themselves into the action. Remember, that’s what fascism is all about — the government making deals with big business, not necessarily nationalizing it.

But since when does the U.S. government have the authority to order legal businesses to pay protection money against lawsuits. That’s what this agreement amounts to.

Not only is the agreement in question from a constitutional standpoint, it is not likely to achieve any good, practical results, either. One facet of the plan requires the tobacco companies to reduce the amount of nicotine in cigarettes during the next 12 years.

But, did you know Philip Morris test-marketed nicotine-free cigareetes 10 years ago? They were absolutely rejected by the marketplace. So, what do you suppose will happen now if the tobacco companies are forced to produce lower nicotine smokes? My guess is that the government will simply be creating a black market for full strength, bootleg products.

After all, what do higher taxes and lower nicotine spell to you? To me they spell black market.

The other possibility, of course, is that we may simply be forcing people to smoke more cigarettes to get their fix of nicotine. Will that be a good idea? I don’t think so — especially since nicotine is not nearly the most harmful ingredient in cigarettes. It may be the most addictive, but it certainly doesn’t cause lung cancer.

Let’s get this straight: We reduce the nicotine levels to the point where people are smoking more and killing themselves at a faster rate. Does this remind you of the federal government’s decision to mandate airbags in cars? Now the airbags are killing kids, so the same bureaucrats want to mandate that your kid must sit on the backseat.

When are the American people going to realize that the most dangerous substance in the country is not tobacco. It’s not the automobile, either. It’s government control over our lives.

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