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Volume 3, Number 6
June, 1998

America the Restricted

by Dave Lind

America is no more.

All of the ideals that our forefathers strived for, lived for, died for, have all been callously abandoned in the name of "The Public Good."

America was once envisioned as a land where a man would be free to speak his mind whenever and wherever he chose. A land where people would be free to live their lives, take risks, succeed or fail according to their own abilities.

It has become nothing like the above.

Instead it is a land where a man can lose his job over a few ill-thought-out remarks made to the wrong reporter during a drinking binge. A place where teenagers can be arrested and prosecuted because of a word printed on a tee shirt. A place where school children can be suspended for sharing a lemon drop with a class mate or bringing a steak knife to cut up their food. A place where agenda-pushing bureaucrats can dictate to medical doctors what forms of medicine may or may not be prescribed to their patients.

And over the past few months, with the consent, indeed with the enthusiastic approval of the American public, this once noble experiment that is free democracy suffered yet another blow as the conglomerate we've come to know as the Tobacco Industry was bullied into accepting a settlement which is as unfair as it is unprecedented.

Now to be fair, yes, I do believe that tobacco is dangerous and yes, I do believe that the tobacco companies lied about the dangers of smoking. I also believe that they targeted minors with their ad campaigns and that many people are addicted to nicotine today as a result.

However, I also believe that any person who believed the tobacco companies "lies" for even one second was either delusional or simply wanted to believe them. Though I, myself, am not a smoker, I do happen to know many smokers and have never met anyone who has for even an instant denied the dangers associated with smoking, yet they continued. How, then, can we take an industry to task for spreading "lies" which no one in their right minds believed in the first place?

And what of the ad campaigns targeting minors? What of the willingness of the tobacco companies to make cigarettes readily accessible to children? What of it? Do you honestly think that, were it legal to do so, Budweiser would refrain from putting beer-vending machines in high school cafeterias simply out of a sense of civic duty?

"Oh, but cigarettes are dangerous!" cry the abolitionists, "Our children are dying by the thousands at the hands of the tobacco industry."

Absolute and utter hogwash! I have yet to see a teenager diagnosed with lung cancer caused by smoking, nor have you or anyone else. Teenagers who smoke inevitably become adults who smoke, and it is the adults who, after a lifetime of choosing to continue smoking, suffer the health consequences. A teenager might not be mature enough to make the decision to smoke, but by the time they reach adulthood, they certainly are. And in a nation that presumably cherishes the right to choose, we should protect this right whenever possible.

Does this mean that tobacco companies should be allowed to target children? To be honest, I personally do not like the idea of Joe Camel enticing teenagers to smoke, but we must be careful where we draw our legal lines lest we be caught on the wrong side of them.

Let me give you an example: A company is in the business of selling a product which, though popular, has been shown in study after study to negatively affect it's user's health, even to the point of contributing to early death. This company knows about it, but callously disregards the public safety in the interest of making money. They carefully select their business outlets to be within close proximity to schools, they price their product so as to be easily available to youngsters, and perform exhaustive studies geared toward making their product as appealing to the masses as possible. Worst of all, their marketing department develops and implements a massive advertising campaign geared toward children as young as three with an ultimate goal of attracting and addicting life-long customers at the earliest age possible.

No, I'm not talking about RJ Reynolds. I'm talking about McDonald's. McDonalds and many like them, from Burger King to Chuck-E-Cheese, are marketing a product which has been shown to dramatically increase the risk of heart disease, which, by the way, kills even more people every year than does lung cancer. Further, a high-fat, high cholesterol diet has been linked to obesity, which in turn increases the chance of high blood pressure and diabetes.

Yet we seem to have no problem with Ronald McDonald frolicking with Mayor McCheese and the Hamburglar during Saturday morning cartoons. Why? Because we LIKE McDonald's.

And here, then, is the root of our problem. On the whole, we Americans tend to be frightfully protective of our rights so long as it impacts us directly. Since most Americans do not smoke, the general feeling seems to be that it is a stupid, filthy habit and not worthy of protecting. But start talking about curbing our God-given right to take the family out to Pizza Hut after the softball game and now you've gone too far.

Certainly there are instances where it is in the best interest of all concerned that we restrict certain activities. Should you have the right to jeopardize innocent lives by driving drunk? Absolutely not. Should you have the right to jeopardize innocent lives by driving at all? Well...I guess... How about helmets? Do you have the right to risk your own life by choosing to wear a motorcycle helmet? If not, then why shouldn't motorists also have to wear one? What about sex? Should you have the right to jeopardize innocent lives by having unprotected sex?

You see how difficult it all becomes? While indeed we do have an obligation to curtail certain rights, we must exercise extreme care when choosing which rights we do curtail and in what manner we curtail them. If randomly firing an automatic weapon into a crowd is dangerous, do we outlaw firing automatic weapons into a crowd, or do we outlaw firearms altogether? If smoking in a restaurant is dangerous, do we outlaw smoking in restaurants, or do we outlaw smoking altogether? If having sex with a minor is bad for the minor, do we outlaw having sex with a minor, or do we outlaw sex altogether.

What we have GOT to realize, what we simply MUST understand if we are to have any hope of retaining what few freedoms we have left, is that every time you restrict the right of another person, the rights of Americans on the whole have been reduced by one. This time it's your neighbor's right to kill himself with cigarettes, next time it might be your right to kill yourself with cheese burgers, eventually it might be your children's right to kill themselves by not maintaining their federally-mandated allotment of aerobic exercise.

Wake up, people, and for once try to imagine where all this is headed.
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