On December 20, President Trump signed a $1.4 trillion spending plan that is meant to fund the federal government through September 30 of next year. Attached to this plan was a provision that would raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. Trump, who expressed support for raising this age limit as early as September, lauded this achievement via Twitter, describing the new restriction simply as "BIG!"
This restriction is backed by senators from both sides of the political aisle and has been described by CNN as a "major public health achievement" for the White House. There's no denying that youth tobacco use is still an issue, especially with the recent increase in cases of vaping-related lung damage. It's clear that the provision is well-intentioned.
But coming from the party that so loudly denounces big government with regards to issues like gun control and environmental regulation (also major public welfare issues), this restriction on the sale of tobacco products is nothing short of hypocritical.
When we shift the topic from tobacco to something more hot-button, like gun control, Republicans quickly alter their stance on the efficiency of such restrictions. Trump himself has described gun and magazine bans as "a total failure," wielding the infamous argument that no matter what restrictions you impose upon law-abiding citizens, some people will inevitably "slip through the cracks."
So why is tobacco any different?
A three-year age increase likely won't stop current smokers (regardless of age) from purchasing tobacco products, and the current use of tobacco products by people under 18 makes it clear that there are already ways to slip through the cracks and attain tobacco. If Republicans are so intent on "[reducing] the size of government" (again, straight from Trump), then it makes very little sense for them to support a provision that inserts the government directly into the personal lives and habits of their constituents.
After all, a person with a gun can kill dozens of people. A person with a cigarette can only kill themself.
This is not to say that tobacco restrictions are a bad idea. This is not even to say that the provision will be entirely ineffective because if it can manage to stop even a few young adults from becoming lifelong smokers, it will indeed be a significant achievement for public health.
This comparison is primarily meant to emphasize the hypocrisy of the Republican Party when it comes to government involvement. On a topic so fundamental to our core American values, it makes no sense for the party to condemn government interference on topics of their choice while simultaneously celebrating the benefits that can come from such involvement. If Republican leaders can argue that legislation aimed at reducing tobacco sales will be effective but can't make the same argument when it comes to guns, a clear gap in their reasoning is exposed.
When it comes to public health and safety, the government either has a place in the lives of the people, or it doesn't. The party that currently leads America shouldn't get to pick and choose which one at its convenience.