In San Francisco, megalomaniacal tech millionaires gorge themselves on exorbitantly priced plates of nettle fazzoletti while thousands of people live in unimaginable squalor. If you are interested in dropping some coin to attend a live performance of something called Public Disgrace, featuring "sex between male dominant and female submissive; domination by female and male dom; secure bondage, gags, hoods, fondling, flogging, and forced orgasms with vibrators," the City by the Bay has you covered.
If, on the other hand, you are one of the city's lucky homeless, yuppie public health fanatics might graciously allow you the privilege of soiling yourself in public without the risk of a jail sentence.
But as of next April, it will be illegal to purchase menthol cigarettes in San Francisco.
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For the knowledge workers indulging in "burgundy-braised lamb cupcakes with beet-whipped mashed potato frosting and chive sprinkles," this arbitrary and capricious prohibition of a substance that offers less rarefied pleasure to thousands of their fellow citizens will not seem like much of a setback. Nor will they find fault with the reasoning of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors that menthols are "starter products" that are "typically marketed to vulnerable populations including children and young adults, African Americans, and LGBTQ people." I mean, like, seriously.
How many of these cauliflower popcorn-eaters and consensual BDSM aficionados have ever taken a big drag from a Newport Menthol 100? The assumption that African-Americans enjoy menthol cigarettes because they are the hapless dupes of Big Tobacco is the sort of risible condescension characteristic of liberalism at its worst.
It never occurs to me the 30 or so times a day when I put another tube of brown leaves in my mouth and flick my lighter to say, "Man, this is so good for my health." But the fact that cigarettes are bad is not exactly occult knowledge. Millions of us smoke anyway and will never quit, San Francisco do-gooders be damned.
Has it ever occurred to self-satisfied liberals that some people smoke menthols, or any other kind of cigarette, because they find it enjoyable, the same way that some of their fellows get a kick out of watching women being contractually beaten and spat upon, albeit without the consequences to their immortal souls?
I also find it impossible to make sense of the city's argument that the "financial cost to San Francisco in direct health-care expenses and lost productivity from tobacco use is estimated at around $380 million a year." Never mind the rune-casting arithmancy involved in assuming that every person who has ever taken so much as a puff of a cigarette and then in the course of his three-score years and ten gone in for a routine physical is costing the city money directly attributable to the existence of the demon leaf. Far more mystifying — indeed mystical — is the notion that it is possible to calculate "lost productivity." How do they know that people aren't working harder because they have smoke breaks to keep them going?
But this isn't only a question of public accounting jujitsu. It is far more sinister and pernicious. To say that smokers can ever ipso facto "cost" their fellow citizens money in "lost productivity" is to claim that they are not human beings made in the image of God but rather specimens of Homo economicus — animate clusters of matter whose telos is contributing to the increase in our per capita gross domestic product. It is the same argument that used to be made by General Motors against line workers who, before the Great Flint Sit-Down Strike, were haughty enough to imagine they might be allowed to have conversations at lunch time. People are not economic variables — they are, well, people.
The consequences of the menthol ban are as predictable as they are unfortunate. People will not simply give up their cherished habit, especially when the product in question is available in nearby jurisdictions. Instead, this over-taxed consumable will become an illicit substance, and a black market for menthols will flourish. Is this really a prudent public policy decision at a time when selling loosie cigarettes can get you killed by the police on the opposite coast? This is exactly the point that Al Sharpton argued earlier this year at a series of public forums that banning menthols would only give law enforcement another excuse to lock up minorities.
I am proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with the good reverend here. Banning menthols is class warfare at its ugliest.
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