In a recent Star Ledger column, Paul Mulshine, argues that opponents of the current bill that raises the legal purchase age of tobacco products from 19 to 21 are “crackpot libertarians.” He makes an accurate and convincing argument that tobacco use is not good for anyone, and I certainly don’t condone the use of tobacco by anyone, regardless of age. However, mandating the use of government power to control the behavior of consenting adults is wrong.
The age of majority has traditionally been 18 in the United States. At 18 you can vote, be treated as an adult in the criminal justice system and be shipped off to a foreign country to fight a war for our politicians (even forcibly via conscription). Yet at the age of 18 one can not make the choice of what they can do with their own bodies? It doesn't matter if the age of adulthood and responsibility is being dictated by the State or by the Federal Government. Either you own yourself, or as Mulshine is arguing, the government owns you.
Former Libertarian candidate for Governor, Murray Sabrin, has written a response to Mulshine’s call for a nanny state in “Ouch! Call Me a Crackpot Libertarian.” In it he states:
The correct policy on smoking or any other medical issue is for the government to get out of the healthcare sector. Period. That would force individuals to make better decisions about their lifestyle choices. Currently, the government has created a huge moral hazard by subsidizing smoking, in effect telling people that taxpayers will pay for their healthcare if they get ill because of smoking, excessive drinking, overeating, etc.
The solution to create better outcomes in healthcare among other areas of our society is liberty, individual responsibility and voluntary charity, not the twisted logic of the Senator Codey and now Paul Mulshine.
The proposed bill will do nothing to lower the impact or precedence of tobacco use in our society. It will only create a larger black market in tobacco. Smoking is just as dangerous to an 18 year old as it is to a 21 year old. Banning a desired substance has no effect on its use or availability.
Our society has a bad habit of babying our children and young adults too much. Employment of our youth is practically forbidden. Regulations and minimum wage laws have made the teen job market non-existent. Minors under 14 are prohibited from working while minors from 14 to 16 are severely limited in the jobs they are allowed to work and the hours they can work. When I was 12 years old I had a paper route. I would wake up well before sunrise, load up my bicycle with newspapers and deliver papers to several hundred subscribers. This was incredibly hard work and took dedication. I learned many lessons at that job. Soon after that I was working in any way I could for several small business. I had a job at a clothing factory cleaning up and cutting patterns for clothing, I pumped gas, cooked, and served customers all before the age of 16. At these jobs I learned how to work and how to provide a value to an employer – in return for a fair wage.
I believe that the principles that this bill violates is very important. As a society we must place more value on freedom and personal choice. We need to treat people as individuals who are capable of deciding what risks and what rewards each individual chooses to take.