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Up in smoke ; New law will hurt Seneca's sales, but restricting tobacco is good policy

It's not hard to feel some sympathy for the Seneca Nation of Indians as it awaits what amounts to a death sentence for its Internet cigarette business. The recent law banning the U.S. Postal Service from delivering cigarettes will hurt, and perhaps cripple, its operations.

But sympathy isn't the same as support. This was the right decision. Addictive, poisonous substances shouldn't be available at the click of a button. That, alone, was sufficient reason to enact this law.

Representatives of the nation told federal regulators that the law is bound to result in racial profiling of Indians, and called the law a direct hit on the Senecas' sovereignty. We hope regulators will avoid racial profiling, just as we hope the Senecas, and all Internet vendors of cigarettes, will abide by this important law.

As to the nation's sovereignty, the law is much broader than a specific targeting of the Seneca Nation and cannot reasonably be interpreted as an attack. The sensible and necessary point is to restrict the availability of cigarettes, not to punish a particular group of people. The Senecas may be a primary Internet vendor of cigarettes, but they're not alone.

It is true that the law will have other broadly beneficial effects, including leveling the competitive field for other, non-Indian cigarette retailers, though we'd be happy to see them all stop selling this poison. That doesn't change the fact that this is good policy.

It's also worth remembering that, while the Senecas' loss of this market is plainly going to have an impact, they have exclusive rights to the Western New York casino business, which brings in tens of millions of dollars a year. We don't blame them for trying to protect what they have, but the fact is, that they now have much that no one else does.

Things change. Ideas evolve. Fifty years ago, doctors were advertising cigarettes on television. Today, we understand the severe social and individual costs of nicotine addiction. This is a change whose time has come.

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