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Stogie Commentary: The Neverending War on Tobacco

3 Nov 2009

You’ll find no simpler product, and in my opinion no simpler pleasure, than a fine handmade cigar. Made from meticulously grown tobacco, expertly blended and constructed, the fine cigar is a luxury that can be enjoyed for an hour at a time, yet can be had for just a few dollars.

Statue LibertyAnd that makes it even more of a shame that government is waging a war—naturally, an undeclared and unconstitutional war—against tobacco. Punitive taxes, trade restrictions, government-funded phony science, massive regulatory schemes, state-created cartels, violations of property rights, even free speech restrictions—you’ll find them all in government’s attempts to stop people from enjoying this simple plant. As in other wars, government attacks indiscriminately, making no distinction between small, family-owned cigar companies and “Big Tobacco.”

State attacks on tobacco can be found throughout history. Rodrigo de Jerez, one of Christopher Columbus’ sailors, was thrown in jail for seven years by the Spanish Inquisition for smoking the “Devil’s weed,” which he brought back with him to Europe after Columbus’s historic 1492 journey.

Since that time, governments have excommunicated, slit the lips of, and even poured molten lead down the throats of those who defied smoking bans. Despite being a pack-a-day cigarette smoker in his youth, Hitler came to consider smoking a Jewish habit and had the Nazi government launch an all-out campaign against tobacco.

Back then, America sent its boys to war with a pack of cigarettes as part of a soldier’s daily rations. Today, our tobacco policy more closely resembles that of Nazi Germany. Even the U.S. military, which defeated the Axis with cigarettes blazing, announced this summer it was considering a total smoking ban.

Our head of state today was also once a pack-a-day smoker. And while President Obama still sheepishly admits to smoking the occasional cigarette, that hasn’t stopped him from leading the largest expansion yet of the war on tobacco. One of his first acts of office was signing into law a historically high tax hike on tobacco—federal cigarette taxes jumped from 39 cents to $1 a pack, while taxes on handmade cigars increased a staggering 750 percent. Cigar factories have already begun to close, as hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs are lost.

Only a few months later, Obama signed a bill into law that puts tobacco under the regulatory jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration, meaning that, among other regulatory hoops, new cigarette products will have to be approved by FDA bureaucrats, even though it will be illegal for cigarette companies to highlight FDA approval in their advertisements. Flavored smokes are now banned, and all cigarette advertisements will be black and white and text only—hardly the robust free speech our founders envisioned when they penned the First Amendment.

But like so much expansion of the government, the war on tobacco is hardly a one-party issue. FDA regulation of tobacco has been a pet issue of Republican Sen. John McCain for well over a decade. And McCain’s 2008 presidential primary rival Mike Huckabee told an audience that, if elected, he would sign a national smoking ban if one made it to his desk.

In the one area where Obama has made comments that are welcome to cigar smokers, normalizing relations with Cuba, politicians of both parties have joined to stall any steps towards ending the embargo that was signed into law by President Kennedy over 48 years ago. Famously, the night before approving the embargo, Kennedy sent his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, around DC to buy 1,200 of his cherished Cuban H. Upmann cigars. Presidential hypocrisy on tobacco, it seems, is not a new phenomenon.

Armed with government-funded research, a well-funded group of professional lobbyists continues to agitate for more restrictions. In the states and in local government, they push smoking bans for public parks, bars, restaurants, apartment buildings, and even personal cars. On the federal level, they push for more taxes, further restrictions on advertising, and prohibitions on mail-order tobacco. If the current campaign for government-run healthcare succeeds, expect a slew of new regulations under the guise of keeping health cares costs down.

One anti-smoking law nearly always leads to another. In San Francisco, after a smoking ban pushed smokers out of bars and onto the sidewalk, the mayor proposed an additional tax on cigarettes to clean up the cigarette butts the exiled smokers created. Elsewhere, after cigar smokers reacted to smoking bans in bars by creating private clubs, politicians “closed the loophole” by extending the ban to the clubs.

Despite this onslaught, cigars are experiencing something of a renaissance, with quality and variety as good as ever. Today the best non-Cuban cigars, usually from Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, or Honduras, are as good as Cuba’s top smokes. Innovative blenders are creating new cigars with all the complexity and subtleties of the world’s finest wines.

In the past year, cigar makers (and consumers) have organized to fight the ever-expanding threat to their business. Leading cigar maker Rocky Patel told me, “Every night I go to bed and I worry about the government putting us out of business.” Another maker, Nick Perdomo of Perdomo Cigars, called the government his “biggest competitor.”

The problem is government doesn’t merely compete. It destroys with taxes, regulations, and other infringements of liberty. All of which make every cigar you smoke a small act of defiance against big, oppressive government. I recommend defying often, and with a strong spirit in your other hand.

[This article originally appeared in the Fall Issue of the Young American Revolution, the quarterly magazine of Young Americans for Liberty.]

Patrick S

photo credit: ELCivics.com

Drew Estate

14 Responses to “Stogie Commentary: The Neverending War on Tobacco”

  1. dmjones Tuesday, November 3, 2009 at 2:43 am #

    Great thought piece, Patrick. While the liberals seem intent on pushing socialism/fascism in every way possible, it is very sad that so many so-called "conservatives" are just "little socialists" to the libs' "big socialists."

    Where do we find the rock-solid conservatives that can turn this whole mess, from tobacco tax madness to nationalized health-care nonsense, back around? Our last Republican President was by no means conservative on every issue…or even most issues, for that matter…but at least he vetoed the first attempt at SCHIP expansion. Our last Republican presidential candidate was so left-wing on so many issues he was considered by John Kerry as a running mate in 2004!

  2. Chris V Tuesday, November 3, 2009 at 5:35 am #

    What I find even more hilarious is that over here in the Netherlands I talk to people about US politics (they just love to bring it up with Americans) and they tout their love of Obama, yet how they still consider him fairly conservative compared to their politicians?! That said, last weekend, in Belgium, I enjoyed a fine cigar in a cigar bar, a normal bar, AND EVEN a disco/club?!?! Granted the taxes are higher and cigars/cigarettes are more expensive, but at least you have more liberties to use them!

    Side note: this was Belgium, the same does not apply to all countries I've been visiting.

  3. Chris V Tuesday, November 3, 2009 at 5:37 am #

    I re-read that and thought I should expound on my point a little instead of leaving it implied. In countries where OBAMA is considered right-wing they still are not as constrictive of tobacco as the US government currently is. What is it about the US and tobacco that lends itself to over-reaction?

  4. Marc E Tuesday, November 3, 2009 at 10:40 am #

    It’s not about left wing or right wing or “socialists” vs. “real” americans All that left right BS being vomited by Fox “News”, CNN, MSNBC, is meant to keep the masses at bay and fighting for scraps and “issues” that don’t really matter in the long run while government does what it does best; expand and protect itself from public scrutiny or accountability. This is a rights issues. Cigar smokers have rights, and all we’re doing to defend them is paying the CRA, replying to comments on blogs…but I don’t see anything concrete. It reminds me of the first announcement of the creation of CRA, someone asked aside from the cigar smoking parties and speeches, what the heck were they going to do? I have not seen any serious efforts on the part of the cigar makers to refute in the main media the fake science that supports these bans The most televised comment that this anti tobacco war has gone too far was made on a episode of “South Park” years ago when a character said “…We don’t really know if second hand smoke causes cancer, but we say it does because the ends justify the means…” So only South Park has said something publicly that the regular joe who does not read cigar blogs would see as far as I recall. Don’t get me wrong, these articles on stogieguys and other sites serve a good purpose. They’re informative and serve to keep us informed. But to me they feel as a call to arms, one that has not been taken up by anyone. Cigarette smoking needs to be decreased wherever it can…but cigars are not the same as cigarettes. And smoking of all kinds needs to allowed outdoors…the cars that drive by are putting out far worse chemicals than anything a cigar or cigarette could.

  5. joey Tuesday, November 3, 2009 at 12:46 pm #

    Second hand smoke kills.

  6. Chris V Tuesday, November 3, 2009 at 4:04 pm #

    Bah hahahahaha

  7. dmjones Tuesday, November 3, 2009 at 5:18 pm #

    Marc,
    You rail on and on about the CRA, Fox “News” (your quotes), and a failure of taking up arms…and after all the griping about nobody doing anything but talking, you’ve talked a lot and not suggesting any new action.

    So…what’s your plan?

    I’m not being sarcastic…much…really, though, if you have some new plan of action, let us know. If it’s a good one, I’m sure many of us would join.

  8. jan Tuesday, November 3, 2009 at 8:10 pm #

    Until and unless cigar smokers are willing to accept and forgive their fellow cigarette and pipe smokers government will carry on trampling the rights of all.

    As a voting block smokers would be a force to reckoned with and politicians would have to pay attention. It cigar smokers only fight for cigar smokers rights, you will find you have the same rights as cigarette smokers today – none.

  9. herfmaster Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 6:18 am #

    It's really sad what our country has become…a country of apathetics. It's in such disarray that not many care, and the others think everything's hunky-dory.

    Tobacco has become the tea of our generation. We need tobacco parties, not tea parties! We should all take lessons from the French, and strike over bans and taxes like this.

    Move over USA, USSA is coming!!! (or maybe here already)

  10. Chris V Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 6:48 am #

    Here here! I don’t like cigarettes, but why are they any less welcome to enjoy their simple pleasures than us?

  11. jan Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 8:40 am #

    The trick is bringing everyone together. Cigar & pipe smokers were banned from public places while cigarette smoking was allowed. They had no problem voting for smoking bans, thinking cigar bars would continue to exist unscathed. The same has happened with increased cigarette taxes, they weren't taxing cigars and pipe tobacco, so they voted in favor of tax increases because it didn't effect them.

    I believe this was the intent, lull the cigar and pipe smokers while demonizing the cigarette smokers to gain their support. We now know that no tobacco product is safe from increase taxes or bans.

    The federal health care overhaul will charge all smokers extra, but illegal drug users will be covered and cared for with your tax dollars for free.

    I'm not sure it isn't too late.

  12. Agent 86 Thursday, November 5, 2009 at 1:35 pm #

    And New York needs to wake the hell up. Their Bloomberg is one of the most dangerous people in America. Look at the most recent ban that freak did. Rumor has it now he wants to form a nationwide Mayors anti-smoking taskforce along the lines of his anti-gun organization. When that happens the entire country will be under the same laws he rammed down NY’s throat.

  13. Mike Friday, November 6, 2009 at 2:36 pm #

    The myth that smokers were a potent voting block evaporated when the MSA mandated the brekaup of the Big Tobacco-funded “grassroots” smokers rights campaigns.

    Most smokers aroundf the world smoke consume cigarettes. The vast majority want to quit. And they have enough self-loathing from the constant anti-smoking messages that many support most smoking bans.

    It’s a battle that won’t be won. One consolation is that I suspect the Supreme Court will strike down several of the tobacco marketing restrictions on free-speech grounds.

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