Last week, tobacco-control advocates gathered in Cambridge for a conference about the increased governance of tobacco. According to The New York Times, the goal on hand is to find a way to reduce smoking rates to well below 10 percent. Currently, fewer than one in five Americans smoke, according to the Times. Still, cigarettes continue to kill 400,000 Americans a year.
The Times reported that the conversation centered on the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which U.S. President Barack Obama signed in 2009. The act approved by Obama already gives the Food and Drug Administration the power to establish tobacco product standards, according to the Times. This means it can call for a reduction in the amount of nicotine put into cigarettes to below addictive levels — one way to achieve the conference’s goal — hopefully protecting new smokers from addiction and habitual smokers from excessive nicotine exposure. Another part of the act affirms the authority of the government to prohibit the sale, distribution and possession of — and even access and exposure to — tobacco products by individuals of any age, according to the Times. Conference attendees called on governments to prohibit people born after the year 2000 from ever buying cigarettes.
These are good goals, steps in the right direction toward a healthier, smoke-free America. But more probably, they are unrealistic. Prohibiting people from buying cigarettes in certain areas just means they will acquire them elsewhere. And lower nicotine contents mostly just mean that people will smoke more cigarettes to get a desired effect.
Moreover, as dangerous a habit as smoking is, how far can the government go in restricting our right to choose what we put into our bodies? Does tobacco join the ranks of marijuana or other illegal harder drugs? And finally, would restricting tobacco access really omit it? Probably not, and certainly not right away.
People will smoke if they want to smoke, no matter the risks involved, and for that group of individuals, there might not be much the government can do. On the other hand, all measures are positive in the long-term trek towards American health.