Is post COVID-19 America poised to ban tobacco, junk food, and alcohol?

The official reason for the unprecedented closure of much of the United States in response to COVID-19 is that lives matter.  Indeed, lives apparently matter so much that no sacrifice is too great — including to our freedoms and the economy — if it can save even one life from the virus.

Surely this is a noble sentiment; and I for one certainly do not mean to argue against it.

But it also raises the question: where was this altruistic concern before — when tens if not hundreds of millions of American lives were needlessly sacrificed, ironically, in the name of freedom and economics?

Consider the top three leading causes of preventable deaths in the U.S.: every year, about 480,000 Americans die from smoking, 300,000 die from obesity, and 88,000 die from alcohol.

Together with the other leading causes of preventable deaths in the US — such as drug abuse and motor vehicle accidents — this means that well over one million American lives are needlessly lost every single year, mostly from tobacco, alcohol, and overeating.

Yet this hasn't changed a thing; they are all legal.  Why?  Because of freedom and economics.  You see, it's your American right to smoke, drink, and overeat — just as it is the tobacco, alcohol, and food companies' right to profit from these.

There's much more than "freedom" at stake here.  There's also enticement and addiction — that is, the programming or habituating of people to do what they normally ("freely") wouldn't.  In other words, it's not just that you're free to smoke, drink, and overeat, but that billions of dollars are spent in advertisement for the express purpose of making you want to smoke, drink, and above all else overeat.

Despite the million or so American lives lost every year from these vices — and the fact that most of them died more from addiction than freedom — the government has done essentially nothing about it, aside from requiring warning labels on tobacco and alcohol products.  And you can't really blame it; after all, we're adults here, and freedom is a big premium in America.

But then COVID-19 happened, and suddenly, our betters have seen the light; suddenly, no sacrifice is great enough if it can save just one life from the coronavirus.

Consider some facts and statistics: 240,000 has long been the maximum number of deaths from the coronavirus that the U.S. government predicted, based on figures reached by leading health experts.  Although that number has significantly dropped to something like 60,000, for argument's sake, let's stick with 240,000.  In order to save that number of lives, no price — including severely curtailing our personal freedoms and destroying the economy — has been deemed too great.

It must logically follow that our suddenly enlightened betters will enact laws and take measures to save the exponentially greater number of American lives needlessly lost every single year from their addictions to tobacco, alcohol, and overeating, right?  (By the way, I'm not personally calling for the banning of these vices, but rather connecting the dots.)

Look at it this way: if trapping people in their homes for weeks, destroying countless mom-and-pop stores around the nation, and even arresting fathers who play ball with their daughters in empty parks — and creating a culture where people are "rewarded" for reporting on such "lawbreakers" — are now deemed necessary evils, or the "new norm," to save 240,000 potential lives, then surely something as commonsensical as outlawing intrinsically unhealthy and addictive products — or at the very least their aggressive, exploitative advertisement — must be right around the corner.  After all, doing so would save millions of lives each year — as opposed to 240,000 "potential" lives.

As such, and because COVID-19 has ushered in a new era of appreciation for American lives, I fully expect to see such conscientious laws enacted soon — just as I expect the newsrooms to keep the issue at the fore, including by daily reporting the exact number of deaths from smoking, overeating, and drinking, the way they do with coronavirus cases.

Don't you?

Raymond Ibrahim, author of Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, is Shillman fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, Judith Friedman Rosen fellow at the Middle East Forum, and distinguished senior fellow at the Gatestone Institute.

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