But government operates by the law of diminishing returns. Beyond a certain point, the social benefits of regulation begat new ills. The state’s desire to turn us all into yoghurt eating, fat avoiding Dolph Lundgrens will backfire when we’re all living into our hundreds and receipts from cigarette taxes have disappeared. Man is hotwired to destroy himself, and cigarette smoking can play a part in that natural cycle of self-annihilation.
And free market governments should bear something else in mind when thinking of banning the weed: tobacco built America. Jamestown was England’s first successful colony on American soil, but its survival was initially uncertain. From 1607-1611, it floundered from famine to epidemic and nearly disappeared off the map. It was rescued in 1611 when colonist John Rolfe experimented with planting some tobacco. By 1619, Jamestown had become a major commercial port, flourishing on sales of the demon weed to England. The industry brought political development as the colonists demanded self-government and control over duties. James I’s threat to ban it on health grounds stoked some early nationalist feeling. Meanwhile, John Rolfe played another big part in early American history by marrying local Amerindian Pocahontas. Alas, capitalism also laid the foundations for conflict between the Europeans and the Native Americans. Tired of having their land stolen for tobacco cultivation, the locals attacked Jamestown in 1622 and killed Rolfe. All progress comes at a price.
Today, tobacco is building new economies in South East Asia. Alas, the companies involved are not exactly model employers and their advertising techniques are scandalous. But life is complex, and individuals and nations cut deals with the devil all the time for the prospect of economic growth or a stolen moment of smoky bliss. For libertarians the world over, surely tobacco is the most potent symbol of the preference for liberty over security?