Sunday, June 21, 2009

Outlaw Tobacco or not from Coburn?

http://www.tulsawor article.aspx? subjectid= 261&articleid=20090621_ 261_G1_SenTom290 436

Relax smokers, U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn doesn't want to ban tobacco.

But as former Interior Secretary James Watts once said, "A lie can run around the world before the truth can get its boots on."

This lie seems to be working on its second lap.

The dangers of irony:

It all started when the U.S. Senate was debating a bill that would put regulation of tobacco under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Advocates say tobacco is a means of introducing the drug nicotine into the body and should be regulated by the FDA like any other drug.

Coburn opposed the measure and voted against it.

But during the debate — and really this should be a great lesson for us all about the dangers of irony in public speaking — Coburn said something like this: "What we should be doing is banning tobacco. ... Nobody up here has the courage to do that. It is a big business. There are millions of Americans who are addicted to nicotine. And even if they are not addicted to the nicotine, they are addicted to the habit."

At least that is how he was quoted in The Hill, a congressional newspaper that publishes daily when Congress is in session.

That set off some great online headlines that are still out there on the Internet.

"Republican senator seeks to outlaw tobacco," was the Hill's headline.

"Sen. Tom Coburn Is
Unlikely Supporter Of Tobacco Ban," says the Huffington Post.

"Outlaw Tobacco? Tom Coburn (R-OK) Thinks So,' says Sean Hannity's Web site.

What he meant, what they want: Actually, Coburn doesn't think so.

"Various news reports took statements I recently made on the floor out of context and suggested that I wanted to ban tobacco products," Coburn says in a statement he issued. "That is not my goal or intent. I was arguing that the bill now being debated by the Senate to place tobacco products under the regulation of the Food and Drug Administration, an agency charged with ensuring the safety of food and medicine, is a clever attempt to stop tobacco use altogether either through government regulation or trial attorney lawsuits. I was suggesting that those who oppose tobacco should simply have the courage to propose a total ban, which is their ultimate goal.

"We already have several government agencies that are focused on regulating tobacco products and educating the public about the dangers of tobacco use," the statement continues. "As a physician, I agree that it is in the best interest of public health that tobacco use be discouraged, prevented, and treated, but I do not believe that new regulations or taxes imposed by the federal government are the answer. I also do not believe that tobacco use by adults should be banned."

That's pretty clear, but the lie keeps running.

The Wikipedia entry on Coburn says flatly, "Coburn favors making tobacco illegal."

Coburn, one of two physicians in the Senate, is well aware of the dangers of smoking and doesn't encourage anyone to use tobacco, said John Hart, a spokesman for the senator.

But Coburn believes in the free market and not in the government telling people whether they can smoke or not.

He has made a lot of people angry over the years by blocking legislation that might seem like a good idea, but which isn't specifically allowed by the Constitution.

Certainly, the Constitution never specifically says Congress can regulate tobacco.

Coburn and I could have a good debate about this Constitutional purity. The Constitution doesn't specifically authorize presidents to acquire new territory, but that doesn't mean we should strike the Louisiana Purchase and give everything drained by the Mississippi River back to the French. The Constitution is a living, evolving document with a lot of broad places in its language.

But that debate is a side issue. The question here is one of truth.

Tom Coburn is consistent in his free market philosophy and in his strict reading of what Congress can and can't do.

He's never wanted to ban tobacco.

And anyone who says otherwise is wrong.

Arguably, at least some of those spreading the story are being intentionally wrong, or incredibly obtuse.

Beyond the fact that a federal ban on tobacco would go against Coburn's basic philosophy, is the fact that he was debating against the bill in the first place.

If you put the regulation of tobacco under the control of the FDA, which is charged with regulating the safe and efficacious use of drugs, you could well be setting up a ban of tobacco.

There is no safe, efficacious use of tobacco after all. That was part of Coburn's point: The backers of the proposal were trying to effect a ban but didn't have the courage to say so. He opposed their legislation, and the implication there should have been clear.

Get your boots on

: The Tulsa World never reported the quote, but we're still getting letters to the editor from people who genuinely believe Coburn wants a federal tobacco ban.

The fact that he doesn't isn't as sexy as the story about the conservative physician in the Senate who wants the nanny state to ban tobacco sales.

So the lie keeps running around the world, while the truth is working on getting on that second boot.

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