U.S. Surgeon General: We need more ... smoking bans! And tobacco taxes!

In a report released today, the U.S. Surgeon General called for increased governmental measures to cut down on youth tobacco use. Less than one in five high-school-aged teenagers smoke cigarettes, but the rate of decline among youth users has slowed and the Surgeon General wants to do something to slow the pace further. The Washington Times reports:

More work needs to be done to keep young Americans from using tobacco, including creating smoking bans and increasing taxes on tobacco products, the U.S. Surgeon General’s office said in a report released Thursday. …

“In order to end this epidemic, we need to focus on where we can prevent it and where we can see the most effect, and that’s with young people,” Surgeon General Regina Benjamin said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We want to make our next generation tobacco-free, and I think we can.”The report details youth tobacco use, health impacts, and tobacco marketing and prevention efforts in the U.S. Officials hope the information will reinvigorate anti-tobacco efforts and spark public activism in reducing death and disease caused by tobacco use.

The report also recommended anti-smoking campaigns and increased restrictions under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s authority to regulate tobacco as other ways to prevent adolescents and young adults from using tobacco products.

Why is this a legitimate object of the federal government? Kathleen Sebelius would probably say fewer smokers mean lower health care costs for the country — and that’s true. If the federal government hadn’t taken over health care or inserted itself into the health care industry at all, though, that wouldn’t be an issue. So, I ask again: Why is this a legitimate object of the federal government?

As with so much that the federal government wants to regulate and control, the decision to smoke is a personal one, just as the decision to ban smoking in a restaurant is the prerogative of the restaurant owner. At the very least, this issue should be left up to state and local governments.

Look, nobody dislikes the smell of smoke more than me — I won’t eat at a restaurant that reeks — and I continue to marvel at classmates who sat through countless D.A.R.E. presentations in elementary school and still decided to light up when they reached high school. I never had the slightest desire to touch the stuff — and can still sing word for word the anti-smoking song my elementary school music teacher taught us. (It was to the tune of Ado Annie’s “I’m just a girl who can’t say no,” and began, “I’m just a kid who’ll always say no. I won’t smoke or drink. Why should I follow those who will? I want to be able to think!)

The reasons not to smoke are manifest, and parents, teachers and others close to adolescents have a responsibility to educate teens about the risks of smoking. Here are some fun stats to start:

Compared with nonsmokers, smoking is estimated to increase the risk of—

  • coronary heart disease by 2 to 4 times
  • stroke by 2 to 4 times
  • men developing lung cancer by 23 times
  • women developing lung cancer by 13 times

Where parents and teachers fail, private initiatives or intermediary institutions should pick up the slack. Bureaucrats like the Surgeon General prove by their zeal for federal solutions that they don’t trust parents to do their job and won’t even give parents a chance to prove them wrong.

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