The FDA’s Assault on Tobacco Consumers, Part 2

A bill introduced in the U.S. House last month would ban the flavoring of any “tobacco product” except, strangely, cigarettes.” The targets are vaping devices (vapes, e-cigarettes), but also cigars and pipe tobacco. The Food and Drug Administration deems vaping devices “tobacco products” even though they contain no tobacco. Introduced without sponsors by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the bill would allow an exception for some vaping products, but it is one that would be all but impossible to qualify for.

The rationalization for the prohibition is that flavoring attracts underage consumers to the products. Yet this seems implausible because it suggests that without flavoring teenagers would be uninterested in e-cigarettes (not to mention conventional cigarettes). Yet kids have long been attracted to conventional unflavored cigarettes. (And unflavored marijuana has no troubling winning favor among the young.) After all, fruit, mint, and other flavors are readily available in unrestricted products like hard candy, chewing gum, and soft drinks. So if underage consumers want those flavors, why don’t they stick with products they can legally buy? Clearly, the attraction to e-cigarettes (and conventional cigarettes) is something other than flavors — the “coolness,” or maturity, factor perhaps.

DeLauro’s bill betrays a fundamental puritanism, which underlies all prohibitionism: since nicotine is a substance that provides pleasure and some people therefore use it habitually, it must be stamped out and its consumers, producers, and merchants demonized. (Human beings have long affirmed themselves by demonizing others and their preferences.) As H. L. Mencken told us: puritanism is the “haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

At any rate, DeLauro’s bill is redundant because the FDA under Trump appointee and putative deregulator Scott Gottlieb is already moving in that direction. (Her bill likely excludes conventional cigarettes because the FDA is already stepping up the restrictions on them.) Indeed, Gottlieb now threatens to yank vapes from the market and subject them to a lengthy and expensive regulatory review if “the youth use continues to rise.” (The anti-vaping hysteria is just getting started.) According to NBC News, Gottlieb told a meeting: “If … we see significant increases in [youth] use in 2019, on top of the dramatic rise in 2018, the entire category will face an existential threat. It will be game over for these products until they can successfully traverse the regulatory process.” (Emphasis added.) He reportedly accused the e-cigarette makers of marketing to young people. Yet when those makers label their products as for adults only, they are accused of enticing children. Damned if you do; damned if you don’t.

Welcome to America, the land (as Mencken put it) of the “theoretically free.”

In 2009 Congress and Barack Obama gave a virtual blank check to the secretary of health and human services to regulate “tobacco products” through the FDA and a soon-to-be-created Center for Tobacco Products. The result over the last few years has been a dizzying cascade of oppressive rules governing manufacturing, retailing, labeling, and other aspects of the business of producing and selling combustible and smokeless tobacco and nicotine-delivery products that don’t contain or are not made out of tobacco, such as e-cigarettes and pipes.

Among other things, the FDA has begun to move toward mandating that the nicotine in cigarettes be reduced to so-called “non-addictive” levels, the consequences of which would surely spill onto pipe and cigar smokers. (Nicotine users have always found ways to get the amount they want regardless of government restrictions.) The FDA’s most recent decree bans most flavored vape “e-juices” from general retail stores (as opposed to age-restricted vape shops), and prohibition of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars are also in the works. Meanwhile, other tobacco products, such as pipe tobacco, that entered the market on or after an arbitrary date in the past (in 2016 or 2018, depending on the product) are being deemed “new” and made subject to costly and time-consuming FDA testing. Even a retailer’s blending of two long-available pipe tobaccos is deemed to be “new” and subject to testing. (Deadlines for submission for testing are in 2021 and 2022, depending on the product. The FDA’s procedures have yet to be worked out.)

The upshot is that adults are being harassed as they go about their peaceful consumption of combustible and smokeless tobacco and nontobacco nicotine products, which human beings have done in one way or another from time immemorial. (While some people find it easy to habituate themselves to nicotine, unlike inhaled tobacco smoke, it is not hazardous to health.) As noted, many of these bureaucratic violations of liberty are defended in the name of protecting children; however, we can address that issue without the blunt instrument of the state, and as mentioned, many intrusions have nothing to do with children. How many kids are shelling out for premium cigars, pipe tobacco, and briar pipes?

Moreover, regulations that appear aimed at children, especially those regarding vaping, may discourage cigarette smokers from switching to that safer form of nicotine consumption. The warning that vaping is “not a safe alternative to cigarettes” almost sounds like an argument for sticking with cigarettes, although vaping is safer than inhaling cigarette smoke. (The reported rise in teen vaping has coincided with a drop in teen cigarette smoking.)

The intrusions simply hassle adults and make what they want to consume less abundant and more expensive. And they do something else: they entice teens, who will always be drawn to forbidden fruit. (What would Huck Finn be saying?)

Congress should repeal the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (TCA) of 2009, which empowers the FDA to regulate “tobacco products” and to define what a tobacco product is. How can anyone continue to believe that the U.S. government is constitutionally limited when Congress and the president can authorize an executive department and a regulatory agency to define their own powers over peaceful, consensual conduct?

Make no mistake about it: the assault on manufacturers and retailers is ultimately an attack on consumers who indulge in what other people believe are vices. (See Lysander Spooner’s Vices Are Not Crimes: A Vindication of Moral Liberty.) This is shameful in a society that fancies itself free.

To be continued…

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Nobody asked but …

On the way to work this morning, I saw a cassowary.  Right or wrong, I saw a cassowary (two of them, in fact).  Let me be quick to point out that casuarius casuarius does not occur by Darwinian nature in the Bluegrass of Kentucky.  But it does occur by the workings of the law of unforeseen consequences, and this too is a part of nature.  To help you crack this mystery, I will add that a very nice family maintains a farm on a ridge out my way, and on that farm they maintain many exotic animals, including the cassowary, along with wallaby, coatimundi, bison, dromedary, llama, alpaca, palomino mules, Texas longhorns, and so forth.  That all of these have arrived here on my drive to work, may be an oddity, but it is by nature.

Other oddities are Brexit, the current POTUS, teenagers, the Canadian government’s alleged policy of sterilizing indigenous women, The Caravan, reality television, bonfires, The Constitution, and further so forth.  These are oddities but also natural occurrences.  None of them arrived by magic.  Unicorns, leprechauns, and Disney princesses are figments of the imagination, but the people who believe in them are both natural and odd.

Look around you.  Anything can happen (including pictures of deities in pizza) and usually does.  Many of the things that happen are recognized to be good.

— Kilgore Forelle


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Against Veneration

Ye venerate me; but what if your veneration should some day collapse? Take heed lest a statue crush you!

Ye say, ye believe in Zarathustra? But of what account is Zarathustra! Ye are my believers: but of what account are all believers!

–Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

I have close friends who venerate Adam Smith, John Rawls, Friedrich Hayek, James Buchanan, John Maynard Keynes, Ayn Rand, John Stuart Mill, Ludwig von Mises, Paul Samuelson, Deirdre McCloskey, Elinor Ostrom, Hannah Arendt, Alexis de Tocqueville, David Hume, Murray Rothbard, Paul Krugman, or Thomas Jefferson.

“Venerate.”  I choose the word with care.  “Venerates X” means far more than “Admires X’s intellectual achievements.”  It means, rather, that you (a) ascribe superlative and wide-ranging intellectual insight to X, and (b) energetically lobby to get X ample credit for their supposedly remarkable intellectual contributions.  Thus, people who venerate Hayek don’t merely say, “Hayek made several fruitful points.”  People who venerate Hayek maintain that Hayek’s work is packed with wisdom – and persistently advertise Hayek’s genius to the world.

This veneration of the Great Names mystifies me on two levels.

First, the standard idols just seem overrated.  I’ve read everyone on the preceding list.  When I was a teenager, I venerated a few of them myself.  The more I learned, however, the less impressive even my favorites seemed.  At this point in my life, not a one fills me with awe.  Sure, they’re all smart.  Sure, they all made interesting observations.  But once you set aside the halo effect, each and every one is, in his own way, a massive let-down.

How so?  Some of the Great Names are comically dogmatic.  Others make frequent glaring logical errors.  Some love hyperbole.  Others mask banalities in pompous academic prose.  Some were great for their time.  Others have been overrated from the get-go.  Some simply lived before events and discoveries that seriously discredit their life’s work.  Others manage to be equally oblivious despite an epistemically advantageous birthyear.  Call me hard to please, but after a thorough read, I don’t see why any of the canonical intellectual idols deserve my veneration.  Or anyone’s.

Second, lobbying on the idols’ behalf seems overrated as well.  Suppose I’m wrong about one of the Great Names.  Maybe Adam Smith really is the cat’s meow.  I still have to ask: What’s the point of loudly and repeatedly declaring his awesomeness?  I can understand why you would want to publicize Smith’s great arguments.  Great arguments are what takes rational minds from error to truth.  But habitually talking about the man himself seems like a colossal distraction.

I guess you could claim that today’s Adam Smith worship motivates the Smiths of the future: “O Promising Grad Student, if you become as great as Smith was, one day you too will have acolytes who devote their careers to singing your praises.”  But it’s hard to believe that this has more than a tiny effect on current thinkers’ intellectual effort.  Indeed, if history’s Great Names get too much praise, it’s easy to imagine current thinkers reducing their effort in abject frustration: “I’ll never match the glorious achievements of Adam Smith, so why bother?”

Many will assume that I’m trying to smash existing idols to clear the way for my personal favorites.  There’s a kernel of truth here.  When I hear “superlative and wide-ranging intellectual insight,” the people who come to my mind are none of the Great Names, but Phil Tetlock and Mike Huemer.

Yet in all candor, I don’t venerate them either.  Venerate the living?  That’s cultish!  Kidding aside, I’m confident Tetlock and Huemer are glad not to be venerated.  Truly great thinkers cherish meritocratic intellectual exchange, not Odes to Their Own Greatness.

But, you may ask, where’s the harm in veneration?  Above all else, veneration taxes the search for truth.  Once you idolize a thinker, it’s hard to calmly weigh his arguments.  Perverse nepotism sets in: “Take heed lest a statue crush you!”  Don’t believe me?  Imagine if I randomly inserted some trite words into the works of whatever thinker you most venerate.   Wouldn’t you be sorely tempted, by hook or by crook, to spin my forgery as yet another expression of your idol’s genius?

Finally, you could insist: Veneration may be objectively silly, but it brings meaning to many lives.  A tempting plea, but what of the opportunity cost?  We could take the brainpower we squander on mortal thinkers, and spend it instead on immortal arguments.  Just picture it.  We don’t have to settle for meaning alone.  We can have truth as well.

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Makes for Very Poor Relationships

I have a general philosophy about human interaction.

I am often willing to put in the effort to make a deeper, more interesting or closer relationship with someone (if I like them). This applies to friends, relationships, and family. However, after I put out the initiative, I am not going to invest more in the relationship than the other person. I dislike how that feels when I care more than the other person, and I believe it makes for very poor relationships.

I think this idea is somewhat unobjectionable to most people. However, I also apply this to kids, and I think this is where people would find this to be distasteful and frustrating to think about.

I think one huge problem adults have with interacting with kids (teenagers especially) nowadays is that they try to make their relationship some idealized thing. They like to be active in the kids lives, show interest in them, have a certain degree of closeness, and actualize their investment into the relationship they have wanted. Often, the kids don’t want this.

I was talking to a couple several months back who was frustrated that their teenage daughter often expresses frustration and embarrassment of them. I told them that what I would do is pull back, don’t be as involved and let the daughter come to them. Not as a passive-aggressive stunt, but just as someone who respects boundaries and expects people to value their relationship. They hated this idea … they wanted to be involved in her activities, and share an idealized parenting experience with her.

If my kids come off irritated, frustrated or annoyed by me … I will take that as a sign to back off, just like I do with everyone else. I will back off until we find a point where we both value the relationship relatively equally. This is so much harder with our kids because we have so much invested in them … however, you will probably maximize the value of the relationship on both ends by taking this approach.

Also, you should have planned this out before and had more kids. If you have 16 kids, they won’t likely feel like you are overly invested. That’s my plan.

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On Being a Part of City Life

When was the first time you felt connected to the life of a city?

When I was younger, I could see the busy-ness of the world around me – the high office buildings, the businesses, the traffic, the construction, the people rushing off to do things. But it all felt foreign and unrelatable.

These were things that other people did and the places that other people went. I had no inkling of what it was like inside those things. As a child and as a teenager, I was a net consumer, taking what was given to me and (let’s be honest) not contributing all that much. So I didn’t really notice, and I didn’t understand.

I had to get a job before I started to realize the beauty of a city skyline, or even a busy interstate. The high office buildings, the businesses, the traffic, the construction, the people rushing off to do things – I’m a part of that flow now. I know what these places and things and activities are like. I know (some of) what it takes to create value in the world.

And that’s a wonderful thing.

When I create things, I become connected to every other creator, whether they’re fixing cars or stringing guitars or building spreadsheets. We’re all trying to improve our lives by trading the value we have for the value someone else has. That puts us into a virtuous flow of exchange. That flow ultimately improves the lives of all the other people in all the other cars rushing toward the city skyline.

Seen that way, everyone I pass by on the interstate now is a fellow laborer, or (better yet) a fellow player in a symphony. And every building, every helicopter or plane, every train, every imposing landmark of city life becomes familiar. Instead of finding a city that feels frightening, imposing, or foreign, I feel at home and engaged. I belong here, in the middle of the activity of life.

Get a job as soon as possible. Become a part of the flow. Contribute. Build. As long as it is good, be a part of it.

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The Students Being Promoted in the Media

I heard the students being promoted by the media about the shootings and gun control for the first time today. A couple of thoughts…

1. It is hard to listen to young people speak to crowds like this. When I was in high school and college I was a musician and had to always perform at all of the ceremonies. I learned to hate high school and college speeches. At this age, when people are given a platform to speak you mostly hear broad platitudes, contrived passion, virtue signaling, and confused underlying philosophical premises.

We develop philosophical subtlety and nuance through rigorous debate, discussion, thought, study and experience. This doesn’t guarantee philosophical accuracy, but it gives us vastly broader means of understanding our ideas and a larger palette of expression. We also individuate as we become free of coercive schooling and parenting. We are free to develop our thoughts and individuate our thinking.

Some people never really intellectually individuate or develop their thinking. These people tend to give he same sort of lame high school like speeches.

2. These kids opinions are being marketed as if they are knowledgeable and representative of reality. They aren’t. They represent themselves. However, the reason we are hearing them is because their opinions are opinions that people in the media desire for you to hear. The narrative wasn’t created due to the shooting (like is being inferred). The students were chosen for the narrative.

The way media works is that they have a narrative/ideology and find the circumstances, people and moments to fit that narrative. This isn’t a criticism of modern media. This is the nature of all media and all information, at all times. Reality can’t decide what is important and reality can’t create narratives. Human values decide what is important and human values create narratives. All media and all information is purely philosophical/ideological.

When you see something on TV, you see it because someone wants you to see it. The reason these people were put on TV is because they represented the people who wanted to put them on TV. They reason they have remained on TV is because they are doing a good job towards those ends.

3. Anyone bashing or praising these kids or this generation in general over this are misplacing their focus. These kids don’t represent this generation. These kids represent themselves and the people who are promoting them.

4. Giving young people podiums is generally a dick move. It is akin to having first year chemistry students speak as the keynote speaker at a national chemistry convention. These people should be refining their thoughts, establishing their lives and developing as an individual. Young people are generally unequipped to handle the criticism, attention, spotlight and fame.

It is when our lives are established (career, family, friends, etc) and our ideas are develops that people know what risks they are taking in order to (sometimes) capably handle a spotlight like this. Of course, I would never stop a young person from creating their own spotlight.

5. Teenagers don’t largely have valuable opinions, but they have valuable minds. It is by taking young people seriously, discussing their thoughts, respecting their ideas, and treating them with honor that they are capable of philosophical refinement and nuanced thought. This is productive when speaking individually, it is destructive when people use young people as a means to push their ideology.

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