Enoch Ludlow

A Spoonful Of Sugar Makes The Fascism Go Down

San Francisco - February 18, 1997

The Food and Drug Administration today laid down the law to the American public during a nationwide ‘interactive’ broadcast from Washington, DC. The 90 minute presentation was broadcast to 25 American cities where the target audience, primarily retailers and health educators, was encouraged to pose questions to the FDA representatives who wrote and will enforce the sweeping new rules and regulations designed to cut teenage smoking in half.

In Emeryville, a small town just outside of San Francisco, the presentation took place at the United Artists Cinema at 10:00am to coincide with the 1:00pm Washington broadcast. Although more than 100 people had registered for the event only about half that amount showed up.

The audience comprised two specific types of attendees. The most numerous were those whose profession falls under the meaningless description of ‘health educator’. Mostly young, mostly women, they were all very well dressed. The women had a similar look of static good grooming which, along with the constantly flashing smiles, rendered them indistinguishable from each other.

The second category consisted of men and women, somewhat older than the health educators. Clad in practical working attire, notepads in hand, they sat quietly resigned. They were the retailers and they were there to listen to orders.

The lights dimmed, computer generated music filled the theater, and President Bill Clinton appeared on the screen. His comments echoed the brightly colored brochure attendees had received prior to entering the theater:

  • Each day, nearly 3,000 American youngsters become regular smokers. Of these, 1,000 will die early from tobacco-related diseases.
  • 82 percent of adults who ever smoked had their first cigarette by their 18th birthday.
  • Smoking among 8th and 10th graders has risen 50 percent since 1991.
  • Of 1,000 20-year-olds who continue to smoke, 6 will die prematurely from homicide, 12 from car accidents, and 500 from smoking.
  • Studies show that minors succeed in buying cigarettes over-the-counter nearly 70 percent of the time and nearly 90 percent of the time from vending machines.
  • In 1994, the tobacco companies spent more than $4 billion on advertising and promoting their products.
  • Thirty percent of 3-year-olds and 91 percent of 6-year-olds can identify Joe Camel as a symbol of smoking.
  • Nearly 50 percent of kids who smoke, and 25 percent of those who don’t, own at least one promotional item from a tobacco company.

Although these ‘facts’ are products of slanted studies, completely irrelevant, or actual prevarications, they nicely fill one page of the brightly colored brochure. The health educators listened intently to the president wearing the solemn faces appropriate to religious services.

The president then brought out the heavy artillery. "This epidemic is no accident," he said, implicitly attacking the tobacco companies for callously trying to make a buck. "These rules and regulations," he said, "are the right thing to do, scientifically, legally and morally".

Vice-President Al Gore followed the president, echoing the president’s echoes. Fortunately he spared the viewers the flood of bathetic reminiscences he tearfully inflicted on the Democratic Convention when he spoke of his sister’s death from lung cancer.

The remainder of the program was an upbeat series of statements by FDA flacks, interspersed with questions from the nationwide audience. The rules and regulations-- not a law, an FDA lawyer corrected a caller--are in two parts, the first becoming effective on February 28.

On that date, all retailers of cigarettes must demand valid identification from anyone who looks younger than 27-years old. Valid ID consists of driver’s license, passport or government identification card. The tobacco companies had proposed a cut off age of 26 but the FDA, never satisfied, upped that ridiculous age requirement by one year to prove how serious it is about the most pressing problem facing the country.

To keep retailers in line, the FDA is spending $34-million dollars on enforcement this year. Enforcement includes compliance checks where undercover agents attempt to circumvent the rules and regulations. If the rules are broken the retailer will receive a letter of warning from the FDA followed by fines of $250 or more if the store doesn't shape up. "For Mom and Pop operations, $250 is a lot of money," explained an overweight, pasty-faced FDA bureaucrat to a query about the effectiveness of such a small fine.

Taking a leaf from totalitarian regimes, customers are encouraged to call the FDA toll-free to snitch on retailers who do not adhere to the rules. Those retailers who display vigilance will receive a letter of commendation from the FDA.

"If teenage smoking is such a big problem, why not just ban cigarettes," asked a caller.

"We thought about it," answered an FDA lawyer, smiling sadly. "But with 50 million adults addicted to tobacco we felt it would be better to stop teenage smoking rather than undergo prohibition and all the problems that would entail."

The 90 minutes were filled with skits depicting sales situations where harried clerks are conned by minors into selling cigarettes. The skits were then reprised to display the FDA’s way of doing business. Vigilant clerks are congratulated by grateful employers. Weaving through these ‘real life’ dramas and FDA rule giving were 30 second intervals of anti-smoking messages accompanied by snazzy drum beats.

The most telling quote came from the relentlessly cheerful moderator, who, after the sting operations were discussed, said with a radiant smile: "Retailers Beware. The FDA will be there!"

Phase 2 of the rules, scheduled for implementation on August 28, were discussed at length but, since they outrageously violate the first amendment, are not worth reporting here. Should they ultimately come into effect this country will have been lost.

Although there is as yet no Phase 3, the FDA's power grab includes the provision to formulate new rules and regulations should teen smoking not be reduced by half. Hints of what those additional rules might be were elucidated in response to various questions from the audience:

  • the FDA has no intent to halt mail order sales of cigarettes, for now;
  • the FDA rules do not cover cigars or pipe tobacco, for now;
  • the FDA will not forbid smoking on TV sitcoms or dramas, for now.

The presentation was slick and somewhat engaging but oddly lacking in any of the patriotic fervor one would expect after the media-generated hurrahs when President Clinton unveiled these rules last summer. Clinton has invoked the new rules during quintessentially American events such as the Democratic Convention and the State of the Union Address.

Teenage smoking is the the baby boomer generation's equivalent of World War II so where are the flag waving and fireworks? Sadly, the FDA's dictatorial action is, as is the entire anti-smoking agenda, anti-American, anti-individual and pretty much an ultra-leftist phenomenon. These bureaucrats and their political patrons would rather trample on the flag, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights than wave it. Their presentation today reflected their values perfectly.

The only moments that deviated from the banal script were those when FDA Commissioner David Kessler was on screen. The eyes behind the heavy lenses glittered with fanaticism as he recounted his epiphany on the road to tobacco regulation. Most anti-tobacco activists are clearly in it for the money, but Kessler is a true believer who sincerely believes that he, one nonelected bureaucrat, has the moral authority to impose his will on 260 million Americans.

His was a frightening appearance, strangely at odds with the shallow antics of the other participants on screen. That this one, driven man has hi-jacked the Congress, violated his own agency’s mandate and enmeshed every tobacco vendor in his regulatory web is incredible. His action is a profound danger to the country. Our acquiescence is a disgrace.

Enoch A. Ludlow


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