Politico reported recently that Sen. Bernie Sanders, the socialist from Vermont and still a presidential candidate, has found a tax that he can oppose. The city of Philadelphia has proposed a tax on surgery soft drinks to fund pre-kindergarten education programs. Sanders slammed the idea as “regressive” and suggested that the tax would fall heaviest on the poor.
When asked what the difference is between a tax on soft drinks and the ones on cigarettes, Sanders suggested that a difference exists. Soft drinks cause obesity which can lead to a number of diseases, however cigarettes directly cause cancer and other fatal ailments.
Sanders then said, “And there is almost the question as to why it remains a legal product in this country."
Interestingly enough Sanders has also decried the “war on drugs” and has suggested the drug users should be forced to undergo treatment rather than be incarcerated. He has also advocated for the legalization of medical marijuana and the decriminalization of recreational pot.
Sanders may have been musing out loud when he wondered why cigarettes were still legal, considering that they cause cancer and a number of other respiratory diseases. Or Sanders may be signaling that his hypothetical administration will move to ban cigarettes.
The mechanism of how a cigarette ban would work is unclear. Would such a ban include pipe tobacco and cigars? What would be the penalty for the illegal possession and sale of cigarettes? Or does Sanders suggest a forced treatment strategy for tobacco addiction as well as for drugs that are currently illegal?
The experience of prohibition does not give anyone confidence in the government’s ability to forbid Americans any vice that millions of people indulge in.
Since the Surgeon General first revealed a link between cigarettes and cancer, restrictions on advertising and massive education campaigns have cut down considerably on cigarette smoking. Cigarettes are no longer as cool as they were in the 1940s when a femme fatale in a movie could make lighting up an erotic act. Cigarettes are considered an unfortunate vice, the practitioners of which have to be segregated from the rest of humanity for health reasons. But, a ban on cigarettes is likely to perversely make them attractive because of the “forbidden fruit” effect.