Save the Children

Barry Goldwater
Wall Street Journal, August 8, 1995

David Kessler, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, says smoking is a "pediatric disease" and that the FDA should take action to protect children from tobacco addiction. He's right.

I have devoted my life to fighting for limited government, and I do not endorse new government programs lightly. But there is a special role for government in protecting children from the greatest dangers in our society. One of those dangers is tobacco. Every day, 3,000 kids become hooked on tobacco in this country; 1,000 of them eventually will die because of it.

The responsibility of government to act is even stronger when the danger comes in the form of a product specifically marketed to young people. Tobacco companies are spending more than $6 billion a year on advertising and promotions that appeal to youth. At the same time, daily smoking among eighth-graders rose 22% between 1991 and 1994.

It's hard to imagine a more compelling case for government action.

Cigarette companies say such action is unnecessary because they will solve the problem of youth smoking on their own. Hogwash. I've watched the tobacco industry make promise after promise to avoid government oversight for the past 40 years. With every promise, they give an inch, grudgingly, and buy enough time to hook another generation.

We let the tobacco industry get away with "voluntary" agreements all through the 1950s, '60s, '70s and '80s. It's time to stop kidding ourselves. Back room deals and gentlemen's agreements never have worked with this industry and never will. This is not a partisan issue; this is about the health of our children. Instead of dealing with this problem squarely, both political parties have sold our children short in the past. They have allowed themselves to be swayed by tobacco industry money and propaganda.

The tobacco industry argues now, as it always has, that it is untouchable and that it will defeat any politician who dares to oppose it. But times have changed. North Carolina now produces more poultry and eggs than tobacco. As the tobacco industry moves more jobs overseas, many tobacco farmers feel exploited. They know change is coming. Many say that what they really need is help to make a transition to other sources of income.

Public opinion on tobacco has changed dramatically, too. For proof of this you need look no further than my home state of Arizona.

Arizona voters are as antitax and anti-regulation as any voters in the land. But last fall, as voters everywhere repudiated high taxes and big government, Arizona voters did a responsible thing. They voted to raise the tax on cigarettes by 40 cents a pack. The tobacco industry used every trick in the book and spent millions to try to confuse them. But in the end, voters understood that the issue was protecting children.

The tobacco industry continues to insist that smoking is a simple matter of individual rights and adult choice. If that were true, I would be on their side. But we're not talking about adults. We're talking about keeping an addictive and lethal substance out of the hands of children. Neither the FDA nor anyone else is talking about prohibiting adults from smoking.

The time has come to rise above partisan politics on this issue. We owe it to our children.

Mr. Goldwater is a former U.S. senator from Arizona.

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