Columns / Discourse / February 12, 2014

Government’s role in restricting tobacco sales: A model that infringes on individual rights

Though it may appear that CVS Caremark is choosing not to carry any sort of tobacco product in their 7,000 plus stores across America because of legitimate health risks, I do not think this is the case. CEO Larry Merlo has stated that “Tobacco products have no place in a setting where health care is delivered,” which makes perfect sense, but it seems to me that there may be other factors in the corporation’s decision that I will delve into in a moment.

It has been proven time and time again that tobacco products are certainly not great for anyone’s health, that isn’t really something that anyone can argue with. Despite that, I think CVS’ decision, from a business perspective, is a terrible decision. Let’s face the facts; people are probably not ever going to stop using tobacco products, no matter the health risk or the tax rate placed upon them. I do not choose to indulge in tobacco products, but I’m certainly not going to tell anyone who does how to run their lives, which brings me to my main point: the government has no right to regulate anything unhealthy, also known as tobacco products, fatty foods and anything else that isn’t quite kosher for Americans to consume in the eyes of the government.

Let’s start by stating the obvious: America is a free, capitalist country. Before you get all “Oh, so you’re pro-‘Merica” on me, take everything into perspective. I completely understand that smoking a pack of cigarettes, chewing a can of tobacco and drinking a 44 ounce fountain soda every day is not a prime example of how to be healthy, and I also understand that America has an obesity epidemic in this day and age, but I do not believe that the government has the right to dictate what anyone what to do or buy. Raising the taxes on items like tobacco products and junk food will in fact deter some people from purchasing them, but why would we, as a nation of free people making our own independent choices want to place that kind of unjust pressure on our citizens? Just like a woman has the right to decide whether or not to terminate her pregnancy without undue burdens, or any given person over the age of 21 can choose to purchase an alcohol product, these choices should not have consequences unrelated to the choices themselves. As long as the risks of using tobacco products are understood by all parties involved, what is the harm in unregulated distribution? In all honesty, the users of these products aren’t hurting anyone but themselves when used responsibly. When it comes to the lives of other people, these factors begin to change, since the safety of others is certainly important, but whether or not the government should be in charge of that is a completely different argument. For example, should smoking be prohibited inside all public buildings, or should that be left up to the owners to decide? Arguments on both sides of the political realm could go both ways.

All in all, I think the $2 billion revenue blow that CVS Caremark is taking has to be related to attempted government regulation. Such a large sum of money is not typically thrown around with such haste, and I do not know of many companies that would allow that much money to simply slip away. I am not sure exactly what government regulation causes CVS to withdraw themselves from tobacco vending, but I have a pretty good hunch that it was going to cost them a proportional sum of money in itself. By my view of the Constitution, that is wrong. It is my opinion that the government should have no say on anyone’s moral standards and should therefore keep itself out of the business realm, but that’s just me.

Shannon Caveny

Tags:  Affordable Care Act capitalism cigarette Constitution CVS Caremark government government regulation healthcare regulation socialism subsidies tobacco

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