Millions of Americans choose to continue smoking despite known health risks. Presumably, the value they get from smoking is (rightly or wrongly) worth the risk to them. But for a short time, it appeared that smokers had a healthy third alternative: electronic cigarettes.
The electronic cigarette is a relatively new innovation that works by allowing smokers to inhale vaporized nicotine instead of burning smoke. The effect and experience is very similar to smoking, but without the ill effects of the carcinogens and tar associated with traditional cigarettes. This is an incredible invention. Suddenly, cigarette breaks may no longer need to be a source of guilt. Instead, smoking becomes equivalent to coffee—just another reasonably safe way to get a little extra enjoyment and relaxation out of life.
Extensive studies of this technology are lacking, but preliminary research suggests that e-cigarettes are incomparably healthier than traditional cigarettes. Scientists have long known that it is the burning of tar and other carcinogens that is the basic cancer-causing mechanism of cigarettes, and this mechanism simply does not exist in electronic cigarettes.
The FDA, however, does not give a damn. Citing concerns that the electronic cigarette “might introduce nonusers to nicotine,” the agency has recently launched a campaign against the product, interfering actively with its importation and sale. Today, much of the property of electronic cigarette manufacturers is sitting locked up in some government warehouse instead of being delivered to its rightful owners.
Rather than leaving it up to individual Americans—smokers, scientists, doctors—to judge the value of electronic cigarettes, the FDA has chosen to deny smokers the opportunity to pursue this alternative.
Where does the government acquire the moral authority to do this? Such an authority does not exist in the founding documents of this country. It certainly did not exist in the spirit of freedom that animated the revolutionaries of 1776, and led to the creation of the freest and most prosperous nation on the globe.
The authority of the FDA is not a moral authority at all. It is the authority of the gun. It is by muscle and not by right that the FDA is forcing those who sell these products, and those who choose to buy them, to forgo the opportunity to pursue their happiness in the way they judge best.
When the statistics of smoking-related illnesses and deaths are published later this year, pause and wonder for a moment how many of them would not have occurred if the FDA had only left Americans free to make their own choices, instead of dictating which products they could and could not purchase. And pause and wonder about the innovation-stifling effects the FDA’s campaign will have on the nascent electronic cigarette industry. If even one American dies who otherwise would have lived, and it will likely be many more than that, the guilt of the government will be beyond repair.
The Undercurrent is a magazine distributed at college campuses and communities across the country. We release a print edition once per semester, and in the interim, regularly post additional articles, blog entries, and campus media responses reports to our website.
The Undercurrent's cultural commentary is based on Ayn Rand's philosophy, Objectivism. Objectivism, which animates Ayn Rand's fiction, is a systematic philosophy of life. It holds that the universe is orderly and comprehensible, that man survives by reason, that his life and happiness comprise his highest moral purpose, and that he flourishes only in a society that protects his individual rights.
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