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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Big business casting a legislative haze

    Evan Lisull columnist
    Evan Lisull
    columnist

    “”Let’s close the revolving door between government and the lobbying shop, and let’s end the no-bid contracts for Halliburton and the other well-connected companies!””

    -Sen. Hillary Clinton, at July’s Take Back America Conference

    Ah, the sweet smell of hypocrisy, a fetid stench that emanates from the marsh currently known as Washington. It is no secret how Sen. Clinton and the rest of the Democratic presidential field feel about big corporations: They are cruel to workers, pollute Washington with lobbyists and should be taxed to high heaven.

    Unfortunately, in politics, actions oftentimes speak much more quietly than words, which is why the Democratic field has not been exposed as complete frauds.

    The latest corporate bill making its rounds in Congress is the euphemistically titled “”Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.”” The act does two things of import: It allows the FDA to regulate new cigarettes in the U.S. market, and it expressly bans all flavored tobacco products, other than regular and menthol flavors. Say farewell to hookah; under this legislation, shisha tobacco would be illegal. Every Democratic presidential candidate in Congress has signed on as a co-sponsor.

    A casual observer, especially a nonsmoker, might not be too concerned. After all, there’s nothing especially good about cigarettes, they might say; what’s wrong with restricting Big Tobacco a little more?

    There are several troubling aspects to this bill. The first, of course, is the regulation of cigarettes by the FDA. The FDA is used to regulate various products, determining which goods are safe and which are not. Wait – I thought the Drug Education Agency said that no cigarette was safe, that they kill you and kill others. Well, they do … so as a compromise, the FDA gains the power to regulate tobacco products entering the market, but the producer is explicitly forbidden from printing this FDA approval on the product. In short, the FDA claims the power to inspect without allowing that power to be displayed in the open – kind of like secret wiretapping, only with product evaluations rather than information evaluations.

    Then, of course, there is the moral issue, the issue of forbidding adult citizens from consuming the products they choose in a free market. And then there’s the crime issue – remember Prohibition? Can you wait for an underground flavored tobacco market, whose funds, which formerly went to the government as taxes, will now finance unsavory crime organizations?

    Yet all of these errors pale in comparison to the most glaring deficiency of this bill: It is a product of Altria Corporation lobbyists. Altria is the corporation formerly known as Philip Morris, the largest domestic manufacturer of tobacco products.

    Consider: The same party that decries Wal-Mart has become the pawn of Big Tobacco.

    This is not a PR gesture by the company, either; the intensive lobbying for this bill is an attempt to use the government to squeeze out competition. Philip Morris has a negligible share of the flavored tobacco market – let’s get rid of it! New companies threatening our dominance? Let’s put so much red tape in their way that they’ll never find their way out!

    There is another touch of irony to this whole travesty. Among the flavors initially banned was clove, a popular variety of cigarette whose manufacture supports an estimated 10 million people in Indonesia. The country threatened to file a World Trade Organization suit against the U.S., but the Democrats refused to budge. However, Altria bought a major portion of a clove-manufacturing company in Indonesia a year later. When the new version of the bill was released earlier this year, clove was included among the allowed flavors.

    Rarely can free-market capitalists like myself and WTO-bashing hippies find common ground on anything. On a bill like this, however, there can be no debate: Big business pushing legislation on its own behalf is bad news, both for market operators and the rule of law. Second-hand smoke can be obnoxious, but the fumes that emanate from the Democratic candidates’ mouths are downright noxious.

    Evan Lisull is a sophomore majoring in economics and political science. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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