Don’t tell me what to do: Smoking and governmental right
Last Wednesday, the New York City Council voted by overwhelming majority to increase the smoking age in the city to 21. This was done as part of an initiative to stop the smoking epidemic and to increase health among the citizens of New York.
But the problem of tobacco use cannot be stopped by something as crude as a ban. All one needs to do to see the falsity of such a statement is to look at current levels of underage drinking. That Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, can think that such heavy-handed action is a good idea is a troubling testament to the current political mindset. To put it bluntly, it is very hard to force people to do anything, especially if the enforcer is the American government.
When playing the game of public opinion, image is everything. Large companies understand this. It’s why they use celebrities and carefully crafted ad campaigns to sell their products. Their manipulation of the system is far more subtle than the government’s, and it is far more effective. Goods are presented as “the right choice,” the best option to pick. Instead of telling consumers what to buy, they suggest it. This keeps individuals from realizing that they are being manipulated and has the added advantage of making the products seem preferable.
Furthermore, banning a substance is a tricky area on many levels since it implies that people are not capable of understanding the effects that the substance would have on them. This raises tricky constitutional questions as well. After all, it is not necessarily the responsibility of the government to determine what its citizens can and cannot do to themselves. Now, there are limits on such freedoms, and a large part of being a leader or politician is knowing when to set such limits. Children should not be allowed to consume alcohol because they cannot understand the full consequences of such actions. Even so, when someone has the full mental capacity to think like an adult, it is a pretty tricky question in and of itself. So what is the answer?
The answer is that we already have set a point after which an individual is considered a full adult in the law. Once a citizen turns 18, he is granted the ability to vote and be drafted. And if someone is old enough to die for his country, shouldn’t he be old enough to choose for himself if he wants to consume tobacco? Or for that matter, whether or not he chooses to drink?
Setting the legal smoking age to 21 is not the solution. In fact, it will exacerbate the problem. Instead of alarming people by thinking that the government is trying to take their freedom to smoke away, citizens should come to understand fully the consequences of smoking, and what it might do to them. That is the government’s responsibility in this situation: to make sure that its citizens are as well-educated as they can possibly be. Once the information is presented, it is no longer the government’s concern if the citizen wishes to smoke. It is the responsibility of the citizens to make their own choices. Our government can show us the door, but it cannot force us to walk through.