Free Money

This week's Record Editorial

<PWhen the tobacco industry concluded its $200 billion-plus settlement with the states over smoking-related health costs, the fed

eral government stepped in and demanded its share of the

money. The states, quite rightly, told the Feds to forget about it.

So it’s no surprise that last week the Justice Department announced it

was going to sue those same tobacco manufacturers for billions of dollars.

The justification is the same: to recoup taxpayer money spent on health care.

In her statement announcing the suit, Attorney General Janet Reno said

her department was pursuing this course because the tobacco industries have

engaged in a “coordinated campaign of fraud and deceit.”

Set aside the fact that this is the same Justice Department that is

currently attempting to explain a coverup over Waco, or the same government

that’s using smoke and mirrors to broadcast record budget surpluses that may or

may not occur in the next 20 years.

You can also ignore the point that big tobacco has, in fact, told its

customers and potential customers for years that smoking is cool, smoking brings

you popularity, and smoking makes you a suave, debonair, rugged individual.

What this all comes down to is best summarized in two words: free

money. The federal government sees a popular source of income and is going after it.

Smoking – or any kind of tobacco use – is dumb, period. Anyone who

smokes for any length of time, particularly after the years and years of scientific

evidence and testimony, knows full well that cigarettes will probably kill you.

It’s called personal choice. But more and more people – and an

increasing number of government agencies – are climbing on the bandwagon of

protecting us from ourselves and making the “guilty parties” pay.

Never mind that this is the same federal government that last year –

through the Veterans Administration – announced vets with smoking-related

illnesses would no longer receive treatment at VA hospitals. Why? Because it was

not the government’s fault the vets got sick, and they should’ve known better

anyway. Apparently this government feels it can have it both ways.

It all comes down to free money, and lots of it. The government needs

new and additional forms of revenue to keep its massive infrastructure and

expanding programs afloat. The tactics are the same: identify a product or

industry, vilify it, then demand payments “for the good of the people.”

This tactic has already been applied to the tobacco industry and is

now being used against the firearms manufacturers. In some quarters,

sensitive, outraged people are demanding a tax or lawsuits against the fast food

industry and purveyors of foods with a high fat content. Apparently it’s the

government’s responsibility to save us from OD’ing on burgers, fries and potato chips.

If they rake in some bucks in the process, all the better.

This is not being done out of philanthropy or due to a sense of

fairness. Rest assured any money the Feds receive from the tobacco industry –

which has already paid billions of dollars in taxes, along with additional billions

to the states through the existing settlement – will not be used for

health-related payments. Instead, it will go into a big pot and the money will find itself

used for other, more important things.

And when the money runs out, the whole process will start all over again.

It may be tobacco again, or they may go after another industry.

When will it end? There’s no telling. Once the government decides it

can sue manufacturers of legal, highly regulated and taxed products for

“damages,” then no aspect of manufacturing is safe.

Never mind your ability to make personal decisions and assume

responsibility for your life and your habits. The government will save you from

yourself, all the while looking for other sources of free money.

Mark Morgan, Editor