In New York, Bloomberg's heart may be in the right place, but merchants who want to sell cigarettes should be justifiably puzzled: If any product is not legal, then they should be barred from stocking it, but as long as it is, how can anyone presume to tell them where to display it -- or, more to the point, that they can't display it?
It all comes down to this:
While well-intentioned attempts to curb smoking may appear bold and decisive, they are in the end timid. The big and most effective step -- outlawing cigarettes on the grounds that they undeniably, in the long run, sicken and kill the people who smoke them, and those around them -- is not going to happen.
Politicians would be terrified to do it -- there are an estimated 45 million smokers in the United States, and no one is going to risk alienating them by completely cutting them off from cigarettes.
In an already shaky economy, the repercussions from shutting down the tobacco industry -- the jobs suddenly lost -- would be, to put it mildly, highly problematic from a political and real-world standpoint.
The memory of Prohibition would undoubtedly be on lawmakers' minds. The government once tried to take from people something they had been accustomed to, something that had been legal: alcohol. The outcome was anything but pretty.
If there really were the political will to end cigarette use, there are ways. Each state sets its own laws for the minimum age to purchase cigarettes -- in most states, it's 18. If states decided to raise the age to, say, 80, that would do it. But the chances are zero.
Like it or not, the country has painted itself into a corner. Cigarettes kill. They will continue to. If they were a new product, they'd never make it to market. Don't bet against them still being here a century from now.
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