March 21, 2014

Health State Butts in on Cigarettes

Attorneys general put pressure on pharmacies to stop selling cigarettes.

After pharmacy giant CVS announced last month that it would cease the sale of cigarettes at its stores, a group of 28 state attorneys general decided to put their collective weight behind the suggestion that several other retailers should take the hint and drop out of the tobacco-selling business, too. The bipartisan group, led by Ohio’s Mike DeWine and New York’s Eric Schneiderman, targeted five leading retailers that either do business as pharmacies or feature them in their stores: Walmart, Kroger, Safeway, Walgreens and Rite Aid all received a letter urging them to stop selling cigarettes in their stores. Combined they make up a significant portion of the $91.5 billion in overall cigarette sales nationally.

Naturally, many of the signatories are grandstanding for their own purposes. Among them were Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden (Joe’s son) and Maryland AG Doug Gansler, who’s running for governor. Richer still, Washington AG Robert Ferguson is urging this cigarette ban despite his state having recently legalized marijuana. Two decades ago, their predecessors hounded tobacco companies directly, receiving a cash settlement supposedly earmarked for state tobacco cessation programs but in reality a windfall for the states’ general funds.

Moreover, Ohio’s DeWine, a Republican, has long been an advocate of nanny statism, beginning while he was a United States senator backing the provision that mandated states standardize a lower blood-alcohol threshold or lose part of their federal highway funding. Now he’s trying to dictate private affairs from a different position as a state official.

We’re not advocating cigarette smoking, but sadly, this sort of government parenting is becoming all too common. When ObamaCare’s legality was challenged in the Supreme Court, Justice Antonin Scalia questioned whether Americans could be mandated to buy broccoli given the individual mandate to buy health insurance. His question was prescient, as we expect government to interfere more frequently in health issues now that it’s paying the tab. We’ll soon see if any of these large retailers buckle under the current pressure, but don’t be surprised when pharmacies aren’t allowed to accept ObamaCare payments unless they stop selling cigarettes. Consider this effort a smoke signal of the future intent to butt in.

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