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4. Toxic-Tobacco Law vs Prohibition

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Comparing the Toxic-Tobacco Law to Prohibition

From Gerace,TA. The Toxic-Tobacco Law: "Appropriate Remedial Action". Journal of Public Health Policy. 1999;20(4):394-407.

Because the Toxic-Tobacco Law would ban the making and selling of a product as did Prohibition, it is reasonable to ask how the Law differs from Prohibition (18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution), which was repealed. Foremost, the Toxic-Tobacco Law does not seek to restrict adults from using tobacco, whereas Prohibition sought to stop Americans from consuming alcoholic beverages by banning their manufacture and sale. The purpose of the Toxic-Tobacco Law is to end the massive presence of tobacco products in American society, reduce youth access and addiction, and decrease morbidity and mortality.

The Toxic-Tobacco Law is singularly focused on improving the health of Americans by preventing the addiction of children and adults, whereas health, moral, and economic arguments were used to pass the 18th Amendment, from Carry Nation's passionate belief that alcohol "rots the brain, body and soul" (3) to the Eastern industrialists' fear that alcohol threatened their pool of reliable workers (4). Nearly fourteen years after passage, the 18th Amendment was repealed because the law was violated widely, crime and corruption abounded, the country was reeling in an economic depression, and fear arose that the authority of the states and the Constitution was deteriorating (5).

The era in which Prohibition was rejected and the era in which the Toxic-Tobacco Law is being proposed are very different. Prohibition was attempted at a time when the majority (>60%) of male adults were consumers of alcohol (5). Today, less than 25% of adult Americans regularly smoke tobacco and 70% of them state they want to quit. Furthermore, 46 million adults have quit smoking, 50% of those who have ever smoked (2). During Prohibition members of all educational-economic levels consumed alcohol (5); today, the prevalence of tobacco use is inversely related to educational-economic level (2).

The industries most affected by Prohibition were manufacturing, wholesaling, retailing, and transportation. The Toxic-Tobacco Law would also affect these industries, but they will have the advantage of a five-year period in which to increase their services to legitimate businesses, compared to the one-year period for Prohibition.

Similar to Prohibition, the Toxic-Tobacco Law will result in decreased federal, state and local revenues from excise and sales taxes. Lost tax revenues under the Toxic-Tobacco Law, however, are expected to be replaced by taxes on other goods and services purchased with dollars no longer being spent on tobacco products (i.e., "redistributed spending", 1). "Redistributed spending" will also stimulate the manufacturing, wholesale, retail, and transportation industries. During Prohibition consumers bought illegally produced alcoholic beverages which tended to minimize "redistributed spending".

Finally, in the 1920s legislation comparable to Prohibition did not exist, whereas today federal regulations over toxic substances exist. Beginning in 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) started regulating toxic materials to protect American workers and consumers (6). For instance, there are regulations that prohibit the manufacturing of products containing carcinogens such as asbestos (7). The table below summarizes key differences between Prohibition and the Toxic-Tobacco Law.

Summary of Key Differences Between Prohibition and the Toxic-Tobacco Law

Parameters Prohibition Toxic-Tobacco Law
Basic Aim Stop use, making, selling of alcohol Stop making, marketing and importing tobacco products
Target Users, makers, sellers Makers, importers
Rationale Improve worker reliability (4), morals, family life (3) End massive presence of tobacco; reduce youth access and addiction; decrease disease
Health One issue among others Primary issue
General Climate 1919-1933: Industrial revolution, WWI, Depression, mass violation of 18th Amendment (Prohibition), crime, corruption (5), no comparable regulations Toxic-tobacco industry under siege: many law suits, widespread restrictions on second-hand smoke, dangers known
Supporters Religious zealots, temperance organizations (3,5), Eastern industrialists (4) Expected: voluntary health organizations, medical societies, parents, grandparents, stakeholders in lower health care costs, victims of tobacco
Enactment Procedure Constitutional amendment, plus federal Volstead Act (4) Law passed by Congress, signed by the President
Adjustment Period One year Five years
Enforcement Federal and states Federal
Percentage of Users >60% of male adults (5) Less than 25% of adults (2)
User Characteristic All educational-economic levels (5) Prevalence inversely related to educational-economic level (2)
Effects on Adult Users Needed to buy from illegal sellers; legal to use For 5 years no effects; then, legal to buy, use
Negative Effects Crime, corruption, mass violation of law None
Industries Affected Manufacturing, wholesaling, retailing, transportation, advertising, mass media, farming Manufacturing, wholesaling, retailing, transportation, advertising, mass media, farming
Excise Taxes Lost from alcoholic beverages Loss from domestic tobacco, but will gain from taxes on redistributed spending (1)


1. Warner, K.E., and Fulton, G.A. "The economic implications of tobacco product sales in a nontobacco state," JAMA. 271 (1994): 771-6.

2. MMWR. "Cigarette smoking among adults-United States, 1993," Morb. Mortal. Wkly. Rep. 43 (1994): 925-30.

3. Nation, C.A. The Use and Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation. Topeka, Kansas: F.M. Steves and Sons, 1905.

4. Rumbarger, J.J. Profits, Power, and Prohibition: Alcohol Reform and the Industrialization of America 1800-1930. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.

5. Kyvig, D.E. Repealing National Prohibition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.

6. U.S. Govt. Manual. Washington DC: U.S. Superintendent of Documents, 1995, 394, 523.

7. Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration. Code of Federal Regulations. Protection of Environment, 40, parts 700-789. Revised July 1, 1995. Washington DC: U.S. Govt. Printing Office, 1995, part 763.160.