Vice Squad
Thursday, October 28, 2004
The Political Influence of Tobacco Companies... pretty darn immense, it seems. Here's a story from yesterday's Guardian about the access that British-American Tobacco had to the top levels of Britain's Blair administration, and here's a report from Common Cause on recent tobacco company campaign contributions in the US. A sample from the latter of the linked stories:
A House-Senate conference committee killed the FDA legislation earlier this month when a majority of the Senate conferees voted for it, but a majority of House conferees did not. Conference committee members who voted against the FDA legislation received, on average, nearly five times as much in tobacco industry political action committee (PAC) contributions as those who voted for the legislation. Those voting against FDA authority received on average $27,255 in tobacco political action committee (PAC) contributions from 1999 to 2004, while those voting for the legislation received on average $5,505 in tobacco PAC contributions.
Now I am a firm believer, of course, that tobacco companies ought to be able to lobby, just like any other interest group. The bigger problem, I suppose, is the influence of monied interests in democratic politics, and what appear to be weak controls to politically "punish" legislators and other politicians who allow their votes to be influenced by big contributors. But it is a tough problem, and one that I cannot solve here, though I find the recent campaign finance reforms to be wrongheaded in the extreme.

But my vice concern is this. I believe that there should be legal channels for adults to acquire currently-illegal drugs, even for recreational use, and even for drugs such as heroin. Those channels could be tightly controlled, and for some drugs, should be tightly controlled. But one argument of prohibitionists is that legalization with tight controls is not a feasible, stable option, because the suppliers of the legalized drugs will be an effective force politically for weakening the strict controls. This argument may not be determinative nor even correct -- tobacco taxes and controls on sales to kids have increased markedly in recent years, despite the political pull of tobacco companies -- but it can't be casually dismissed, either. The linked stories tend to make the prohibitionist argument a little bit more compelling.

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