I thought it was a joke.
Stories started circulating over the past few months about various left-wing local and state legislators urging a ban on e-cigarettes.
E-cigarettes? Why would anyone want to ban these tar-free nicotine fixes that give real cigarette smokers an effective way to limit ingesting carcinogens?
Who would get the vapors over something that eliminates the entire complaint about second-hand smoke?
But one thing everyone in D.C. knows is that political activity rarely happens in a vacuum. Inertia demands that nothing happen unless someone sets it into motion, and no one sets things in motion on something like the benign e-cigarette unless they are being financially threatened.
So, who has something to gain by banning these water-vapor-emitting "dangers"?
Anyone who has watched any television over the holiday season just might have a clue: Endless commercials feature Kool & the Gang singing "I just want to celebrate" to some poor slob depending upon a nicotine patch to get through cigarette cravings.
I'm waiting for the e-cig manufacturers to one-up these ads with a Rolling Stones version. Imagine a mini-Mick Jagger belting out, "You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need."
Sadly, these suspicions about the driving force behind the campaign against e-cigarettes are borne out by a report in The New York Times that Big Pharma had lined up lobbying efforts in Europe to severely restrict e-cigarettes. That's not shocking, given that GlaxoSmithKline is pushing Nicorette gum, and Johnson & Johnson sells nicotine patches.
Now, the Food and Drug Administration is looking to regulate e-cigarettes in America, and the pervasive influence of the legal drug lobby lingers in this regulator's halls like cheap cigar smoke. You can almost smell Big Pharma in the FDA's curtains, and it is understandable. Its very business depends upon FDA decisions, and if big government controls your business, you better be heavily invested in influencing that decision.
That is the problem with big government. Common-sense things like basic harm reduction through alternative nicotine delivery systems end up becoming threats to those who have developed different options. Rather than fight it out in the marketplace, it is natural for those who invest hundreds of millions of dollars to influence regulators and elected officials to use this necessary expenditure to create an advantage for their product.
This is the government relations return on investment that every company desires.
And it is why so many companies that mouth free-market lines so easily take on the role of government rent-seekers. In this instance, it is potentially putting these profits before the lives of smokers in the search for maximized profits.
What else would you expect in a world where government contacts are more meaningful than whether you have a great product that people want?
Manning (@rmanning957) is vice president of public policy and communications for Americans for Limited Government.