Because something is legal does not make it moral. History
is filled with examples of practices that were legal at one time but that today
are illegal and, in retrospect, are viewed as immoral.
The question of legal versus moral can be raised in America
today regarding cigarettes.
The surgeon general of the United States issued a warning
about the negative health consequences of smoking cigarettes fifty years ago. Since
that warning was given, MILLIONS of Americans have died as a result of
cigarette smoke, many of them non-smokers. Study after study has proven that
cigarettes are addictive and deadly. There is also a large body of evidence that
indicates cigarettes manufacturers intentionally design cigarettes to be that
way. Other than cigarettes, no other product legally available today will kill hundreds
of thousands of its users as well as innocent bystanders every year when used
In the year 2000, the total number of deaths from all illegal
drug usage was 17,000; that same year 435,000 deaths were attributed to
tobacco.* Why isn’t tobacco public enemy #1 in our war against drugs?
There are two basic reasons cigarettes are legal in America:
a small number of people have grown very wealthy selling cigarettes and those
people have used their enormous wealth to buy the votes needed to keep cigarettes
legal. If vast sums of money could not be made selling cigarettes or if our
elected representatives cared more about the health of their constituents than
money, cigarettes would not be legal.
The practice of slavery was legal once but with great effort
and the sacrifice of many lives, it was eventually outlawed. The proponents of
slavery made some of the same arguments in support of slavery that proponents
of keeping cigarettes legal make today. Those in favor of slavery defended
their right to run their business free of government intervention. Because
slavery was the foundation of an efficient economic system, to outlaw slavery
would ruin the economy.
Regardless of the economic consequences of ending slavery,
ending the inherent evil of slave labor was worth what it cost to end the
practice. Today we look back on a time when it was legal to own another human
being and wonder how people of the time justified slavery. I believe one day
people will look back on a time when, for economic reasons, millions of
Americans died from exposure to cigarettes and those people will wonder how we
justified making cigarettes legal.
It took courage on the part of our leaders and great
sacrifice by hundreds of thousands of Americans (At least 618,000 Americans
died in the Civil War) to end the practice of slavery. It will also take
courage and sacrifice to make cigarettes illegal. Will we be the ones to change
the law or will we leave it to a future generation? Hundreds of thousands of
our family members and friends will die every year we fail to act.