07/17/12 Killing the Competition


I don’t smoke cigarettes and don’t understand why anybody would.  But that’s not for me to decide.  Cigarettes — more specifically, the manufacture and sale of cigarettes — is an example of crony capitalism.

Tucked deep inside the 600-page Highway Bill [H.R. 4348 Federal Aid for Highways] recently signed into law was a small paragraph that effectively wipes out roll-your-own cigarette shops.

Roll-your-own shops are mom and pop operations where customers purchase loose tobacco and paper and make their own cigarettes.  They’re cheaper than the name-brands.  And they don’t have chemical additives.

Roll-your-own shops were not banned due to any health reasons.  But due to competition.  The paragraph that wiped out the shops was slipped into the bill by Montana Senator Max Baucus.  Since 2000, Baucus has received $20,000 in PAC contributions from Altria – the $70 billion tobacco company.

The real issue isn’t about selling tobacco.  It’s about the cozy relationship between members of Congress and the special interests they serve.  There’s a world of difference between being pro-business and pro-free markets.

What’s to stop Congress from shutting down other mom & pop businesses? Lunch trucks, roadside stands, farmers’ markets, co-ops?

By the way, this was a bipartisan effort.  Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly passed the Highway Bill (373-52 in House roll call vote 451 here and 74-19 in Senate roll call vote 172 here).