New Smoking Age is an Attack on Individual Rights


Jason Garshfield
Staff Writer

There are many things which the government cannot do very well.

It cannot get you in and out of the DMV in a reasonable amount of time. It cannot set up an efficient health insurance exchange website. It cannot manage the distribution of economic resources — or, at least, it has failed miserably at doing so every time it has tried.
But according to Hawaii lawmakers, who have recently raised the age for smoking tobacco from 18 to 21, the government is now qualified to decide what you can and cannot put in your body.

According to the CDC, smoking rates have been declining for decades. Fifty years of anti-tobacco indoctrination have paid off. But the Hawaiian government felt the need to step in and solve the “problem” anyway. As smoking rates continue to decline, these politicians will probably congratulate themselves on the “success” of their policy.

If government-enforced age limits do exist, they should at least conform to the age of legal majority. Anything else is a clear double standard. The 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which lowered the voting age to 18, also established a strong legal precedent for treating 18-year-olds as legal and social adults, with all the rights and responsibility pursuant.

What about the clearly negative health effects of tobacco? What about second-hand smoking? I submit to you that any good argument that could be made for raising the smoking age could be made to ban smoking entirely.

Of course, such a law would never pass. We all know that absolute prohibition has been an utter failure in this country. So why would we accept a situational prohibition for young people?

Politicians take away young people’s rights because they know that we won’t fight back. 18-year-olds are young, poorly organized and untested in the political arena — all in all, not a group capable of mounting a strong legal defense against such laws. The Hawaii law was only feasible because, for the last thirty years, we have allowed a precedent to go unchallenged: the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which gave the United States the highest drinking age in the developed world through the use of coercive government funding. So long as the NMDAA stands, there is absolutely nothing to prevent other states from following Hawaii’s precedent, or writing other laws that apply only to the 18-to-21 demographic.

Presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle have advocated for opening marijuana legalization up to the states. Why not open the drinking age to the states as well?
Young people might be untested in the political arena, but when youth activism does occur, it has proven extremely effective. Perhaps the drinking age is an issue that today’s young people should become active over.

Politicians go to great lengths to court the youth vote, as we will no doubt see in this upcoming election cycle. When they come to campus to beg for our votes, ask them, “If I’m not old enough to have a beer, why am I old enough to vote for you?”

Once we have put up a fight against the NMDAA, we will have a basis for criticizing the new Hawaii law. However, let me make one important caveat: we must not forget that such laws are merely symptoms of a much larger problem. This is a problem that Thomas Sowell calls “the vision of the anointed,” and it occurs when a small group of “experts” become convinced that they know how to run your life better than you do.

You see, regardless of the (highly dubious) effectiveness of prohibition, the strongest argument against it is a moral one: the government has no right to make personal decisions for people, nor is it fit to do so. No government is ever smart enough to consistently make personal determinations better than people can.

To ban any substance, you have to be incredibly, staggeringly arrogant. You have to literally believe that you are smarter than millions of people combined. But this is the same arrogance that people display when they claim that the government can control the market better than the people. Both of these proclamations stem from the same fundamental hubris. If you question one, you should question the other.

So yes, you should be critical of the new Hawaii law … but you should also be critical of yourself and your own motivations, because you too may suffer from “the vision of the anointed.”