Last week, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno made good on President
Clinton’s State of the Union address threat to sue tobacco manufacturers
to recover federal health-care costs associated with cigarette
smoking-related illnesses. This most recent attempt at extortion of
cigarette manufacturers, and ultimately smokers, should raise all sorts
of red flags.

Elites, both in and out of Washington, want to control our lives. Our
acquiescence to their tobacco attack is laying the groundwork for much
bolder actions in the future.

Reno said that tobacco manufacturers are to be held responsible for
the federal costs of treating people with smoking-related diseases.
Suppose we substitute the word obesity-related diseases for
smoking-related diseases, then why not mount a similar attack on food
manufacturers, restaurateurs, and the beer, wine and alcohol industries.
Anti-cigarette zealots are not the nation’s only lifestyle Nazis —
there are other busybody organizations who will use the attack on
smokers as a precedent for their agenda.

Michael Jacobson, director of the Center for Science in the Public
Interest, says about large food servings, “It’s high time the
(restaurant) industry begins to bear some responsibility for its
contribution to obesity, heart disease and cancer.”

Dr. Ronald Griffiths, at Johns Hopkins University, concerned about
coffee addiction, says, “If health risks are well-documented, caffeine
could be catapulted in public perception from a pleasant habit to a
possibly harmful drug of abuse.” Along with Michael Jacobson, he wants
the FDA to regulate caffeine content in soda, coffee, tea and chocolate.

There’s much more at stake than simply the matter of the government’s
suit against tobacco manufacturers. Reno’s actions represent another
attack on our withering Constitution and the rule of law that stands
between liberty and tyranny.

“A government of laws and not of men” means that rules are known in
advance and apply to rulers as well as the ruled. Liberty means that
individuals are shielded from the whims of rulers as well as the whims
of the majority.

Majorities can be just as despotic as tyrants. After all, Jim Crow
laws reflected the will of the majority. In one sense, despotic
majorities are worse than a despotic tyrant because majority rule
creates an aura of respectability. One might understand how a large
percentage of Americans can come to despise 40 million to 50 million of
their fellow Americans who smoke. But surely these people, I would hope,
don’t also despise our Constitution and rule of law.

The tobacco controversy conclusively demonstrates the perils of
socialism. We’ve gone a long way toward the socialization of our
health-care services. As such, Medicaid and Medicare give government the
“right” to tell us how to live our lives. After all, the primary
justification for intrusions such as seatbelt, air-bag and helmet
mandates is that, if we injure ourselves, the government (taxpayers)
will have to bear the costs.

But where does it end? Exercise reduces health-care costs; so do
nutritious diets, eight hours of sleep, moderate alcohol consumption …
you name it. Will a day come when Washington makes us exercise;
legislates diet mandates and requires us to go to bed at a certain time?

You say, “Williams, that’s absurd!” Let’s go back to the ’50s, when
cigarette Nazis were demanding separate smoking sections on airplanes.
Had anyone back then protested, predicting what we see today, he would
have also been greeted with, “That’s absurd!”

Tyrants never take away liberties all at once. They do it bit by bit.
Or, as the great philosopher David Hume said, “It is seldom that liberty
of any kind is lost all at once.”

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