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The Latest In The Never-Ending Assaults On Our Freedoms. One Of These Is Lethal

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The Latest In The Never-Ending Assaults On Our Freedoms. One Of These Is Lethal

This story appears in the September 13, 2016 issue of Forbes.Subscribe

TYRANNY IS about control. Even in democracies the natural tendency of government, unless stopped, is to expand its powers and extend its tentacles into every facet of its citizens’ lives–always in the name of helping them. Control means curtailing people’s opportunities to make choices and restricting the scope of their freedom of action. Left to their own devices bureaucracies would bar you from doing anything without first receiving a permission slip from them. Our Founders understood that it’s the steady accumulation of petty, tyrannical restrictions that leads to the ultimate loss of freedom.

An example of tyranny by small steps is the FDA’s recent decree concerning small manufacturers of premium cigars and the makers of e-cigarette devices. Several years ago Congress gave the FDA extensive powers to regulate the tobacco industry, ostensibly to fight teenage cigarette smoking.

The FDA’s massive list of rules was released in May and took effect in August. All the chatter about protecting health to the contrary, the net effect will benefit large companies by crushing their smaller competitors under the weight of complying with expensive new rules. Most egregiously, the regs will harm public health by crippling the most effective alternative to traditional cigarettes: tobacco-free “vapers,” or e-cigarettes.

–E-cigarettes. Vapers have been a godsend to millions of smokers who had previously had no success in quitting. Essentially, e-cigarettes allow users to inhale nicotine–the ingredient that gives a smoker pleasure–but without the carcinogens that make traditional cigarettes so deadly. In the same manner they keep millions of young people who would normally take up cigarette smoking from doing so. There’s no credible evidence whatsoever that vapers are a gateway to cigarettes. If anything, they’re a prophylactic. Yet the FDA has hit this lifesaving industry in the solar plexus.

All devices made after Feb. 15, 2007 are now subject to FDA approval, an enormously expensive and time-consuming process. Given the agency’s bias, makers may still not get approval. Meanwhile, for those who want to quit smoking–well, too bad.

Why that 2007 date? It’s arbitrary. It’s when Congress took up legislation to give the FDA new powers over the tobacco industry.

Vaping is a fairly new technology. The few products available in early 2007 were vastly inferior in convenience and safety compared with those available today. Competition has given consumers better and better offerings.

Perversely, the FDA will, in effect, be junking today’s good stuff in favor of the relatively low-quality products made nearly a decade ago.

–Premium cigars. Each year a number of artisan cigar manufacturers bring out a variety of new-blend stogies. They are usually handmade or made from vintage machines that date back to the 1930s. Such cigars aren’t cheap–each costs $10 or more. These manufacturers are the cigar equivalent to microbrewers, who have so enriched the quality–not to mention the fantastic array of choices–of today’s beers.

The FDA’s new regs will put most of these cigar companies out of business by subjecting each new blend to a costly, complicated approval process that involves some 5,000 hours of testing and could take years to complete. Makers must prove that each new cigar is “substantially equivalent to” (whatever that means) the blends sold before.

Traditional beermakers must be dreaming up ways to get the FDA to level similar regulations on those pesky microbrewers.

-Pipe smokers. Many of these folks love to experiment with new blends. Tobacconists gladly mix different varieties of pipe tobacco for them. This pleasure is being hit with a regulatory jackhammer. Under the new rules tobacconists who mix pipe tobaccos in their shops must go through an FDA registration process as if they were tobacco manufacturers.

What’s happening to tobacconists and premium cigar makers is a prime example of no activity being too small to avoid regulatory tyranny. (There is a push in Congress to explicitly exempt the makers of premium stogies from the FDA’s dragnet, though the chances of passage are remote.) But what hit the makers of e-cigarette devices is a murderous scandal.

Our vast regulatory state springs from the Progressive PGR -0.26% era of more than a century ago, with its almost religious-like faith in government by experts. Adherents overlook the inconvenient truth that government cannot be divorced from politics and pressure groups.

The FDA’s antipathy to e-cigarettes emanates not from objective science but from the superstitions of certain antismoking jihadists.