Ravenwood - 02/07/05 06:00 AM
I have long held the opinion that the neo-temperance movement will be both a success and a failure. That is, they will succeed in banning smoking, and they will fail at preventing it.
Already smoking has been banned in Ireland, Norway, and New Zealand. Currently the bans only impact "public places", but they include private property like bars and restaurants. Successive steps will include private homes and cars, especially where children or employees might be present. Do you have a maid? You might soon need to decide between firing her and continuing your habit.
Anti-smokers and pleasure police have been on the march for decades. They have taken the baby steps approach to pass increasingly restrictive bans on tobacco, with the ultimate goal of complete prohibition. One needs only to look at history to see how well this will work.
In the 1920s and 30s, alcohol, which is just as deadly as tobacco, was completely banned in the United States. A minority of citizens were able to inflict their moral values on the majority, but drinking didn't stop. Underground bars called speakeasies operated with impunity. The lack of government regulation meant that quality and distribution standards were left up to the whim of the bartender. If he wanted to serve a potentially lethal concoction of 'bathtub gin', so be it. If he wanted to sell to children, so be it. Through the simple act of over-regulation, alcohol became effectively unregulated.
Prohibition also carried with it a dramatic increase in crime. Organized crime bosses like Al Capone flourished. On the black market, there was plenty of profit to be made. Criminals were willing to commit murder over the manufacture and distribution of illegal alcohol. Despite the nation wide ban, if you had the money alcohol was more accessible than ever.
A similar war is happening on illicit drugs. Marijuana, crack, and methamphetamines are all banned. Most of the drugs are banned world wide, and as a consequence, some narcotics have a 17000% profit margin on the street. With money like that to be made, it's no wonder the stakes are so high. As much as 95% of the drugs could be confiscated by authorities, and drug lords would still turn a handsome profit.
In New York City, overtaxation has already created a deadly black market for cigarettes. The profit on illegal tax-free smokes is nearly 300%, and some dealers are already switching from hard drugs to cigarettes. The profits may be lower, but demand is high, and hawking cigarettes brings a lot less jail time than distributing crack cocaine.
The Neo-temperance movement is bound to get their wish. A complete prohibition of tobacco products seems inevitable. The smokers just don't have the numbers to withstand the tyranny of majority rule. But a ban on tobacco won't mean cessation. Just like the underground establishments of the 1920s, some defiant bar and restaurant owners will refuse to enforce the ban. Indeed in places where there is already a ban in place, some restaurant workers are looking the other way rather than take on the role of the pleasure police.
Cigarettes may not be as popular as alcohol, but they are certainly more popular than illicit drugs. Throw in cigars and smokeless tobacco, and there are plenty of people around to violate what they view as a silly and unjust law. When criminals organize to meet that demand, lets just hope that we don't get caught in the crossfire.
(c) Ravenwood and Associates, 1990 - 2010