Here's an Atlantic article about a classmate of Evan's at Wheaton who is facing FDA hurdles to selling his cigarettes. I've met David a few times - interesting guy. Unfortunately the ostensibly simple task of regulating tobacco rolled up in paper (if there are really any public health concerns here aside from stamping a warning label on the stuff for pregnant women, how hard could it really be???) has been a two year nightmare.
David Sley's response to the regulators is excellent: "We want a license to fail, the freedom to see if consumers want this product. We're just asking for the ability to market our product, and see if it sells. Currently, we remain unable to do so."
There's a role for an FDA in a free society. Look, we can't know everything about products on the shelf, some of it can be really dangerous, and free people have a right to get together and have a mechanism for looking over that sort of thing. The framers called that "providing for the public welfare". Fine. In my opinion we don't need to raise some libertarian rallying call over the principle here.
But what principle is holding up tobacco wrapped in paper for this long? How hard can that really be to sign off on a little bit of tobacco wrapped in paper, and get it on the market? This isn't an experimental anti-viral drug cocktail after all. It's a freaking leaf, dried and cured, and wrapped in paper. It's absurd.
Second, I have coincidentally been waging my own little email skirmish against American University's tobacco free campus policy that's going to go into effect in the summer. I just found out about it recently - after it was approved - but I've been voicing my objections.
Again there's no need for libertarian banner raising here. It's just a common sense application of the good old fashioned liberal tradition. I told them that we have a right to get together and regulate the use of tobacco. I don't smoke and I bear a cost when someone smokes around me. So you make some dorms smoke-free. Maybe you even go as far as restricting it in well-traveled public spaces like the area directly outside the library doors. But no liberal or public purpose is served by evicting smokers from the whole campus. This is a private school. It's not a legal issue at all. It's a question of whether it's a liberal thing to do or not.
The response I got was that they are not restricting smokers' rights at all. Smokers have a right to smoke off campus. My response: "I see. Like Don't Ask Don't Tell respects a homosexual's right to be homosexual - just not in the military. Gotcha. This is still very disconcerting. If the policy is maintained then it is maintained, but please don't tell me that it respects smokers' rights."
This stuff doesn't have to be so hard. Common sense can solve a great deal of our social problems (public, as in David Sley's case, or private as in the AU smoking policy case). The problem is that common sense doesn't get the respect it deserves these days. We value political correctness and meddling ("smoking is a bad thing so we have to stop it") or rationalization of human life ("there is some legitimate public health basis for some regulation of food and drugs so we have to insert ourselves into every possible facet of bringing food and drugs to market").
We need more common sense. Let smokers smoke if they're not hurting anyone. Throw up a poster about how they're hurting themselves if you want. Trust me, they know that already but do that if you want. We need more common sense in the FDA too. Protect public health, but differentiate between the time it takes to get a leaf wrapped in paper on the market and the time it takes to get a complicated chemical with unknown side effects on the market.