The Crime of Whitening Teeth with Over-the-Counter Products

It’s perfectly legal to buy over-the-counter tooth whitening products and use them. But if you pay a nondentist for help in doing so, that person may be committing the crime (!) of practicing dentistry without a license. Kentucky passed just such a prohibition on teeth whitening in 2010, apparently with little-to-no debate.

Today’s Wall Street Journal features an op-ed by Angela C. Erickson and Paul Sherman of the Institute for Justice detailing the institute’s suit against Alabama for this kind of prohibition. The issue holds broad implications for other kinds of employment where a powerful lobby can effectively shut out even the smallest of competitors. The authors note that of the complaints, the overwhelming majority come from would-be competitors:

white-out-cover-231x300The Institute for Justice’s “White Out” study
, released Tuesday, documents that dissatisfied consumers are not the force behind restrictions that shut down teeth-whitening businesses in malls and salons. Overwhelmingly, it is dental-industry interests. Of the 97 complaints about non-dentist teeth whitening provided to the institute from 17 state agencies, only four came from consumers. All four alleged reversible side effects, like gum inflammation and tooth sensitivity. Academic dental research shows that such side effects are common to all forms of teeth whitening, wherever it is done.

The remaining 93 complaints came from dentists, hygienists, dental boards, associations and anonymous individuals. They didn’t allege harm to consumers as a result of commercial on-site whitening. The complaint was that entrepreneurs offering teeth-whitening services are practicing dentistry without a license.

As a result of these unlicensed-practice complaints and pressure from licensed dentists and associations, at least 30 states have taken action against non-dentist teeth-whitening businesses. Some of the states have passed new laws or regulations to ban them from the trade. Others have simply reinterpreted existing laws against the unlicensed practice of dentistry.

These laws, and many others like them, need to go. You can read the report here. You can listen to a related Cato Institute podcast about it below:

Price Controls Are Bad

Economists often disagree. One subject on which there is near universal agreement is price controls. They’re bad. Price controls stifle innovation and punish consumers. In Washington D.C., a company called Uber has been offering upscale transport that competes directly with taxicabs. Uber says a new service they want to offer may well be outlawed tomorrow by the D.C. City Council:

On Independence Day, Uber announced a roll out of a lower cost service that we call UberX. A less expensive Uber option on an all-hybrid fleet. We’re pretty excited about it and think it’s a great idea for cities across the country. What some of you probably noticed is that there was no roll out of this service in the District. That is because, only days earlier, the DC City Council informed us that they intended to pass an amendment to the taxi modernization bill that would make it illegal for Uber to lower its prices or to offer a low cost service in any form.

Uber claims the city council wants to force them to offer this new service at a minimum price of five times the price of a comparable taxicab ride. They’re calling this language the “Uber amendment.”

This kind of effort by local officials to protect incumbent businesses isn’t unprecedented. The Institute for Justice has done a great deal of work challenging exactly these kinds of price controls in other cities. I wouldn’t be surprised if they jump in here, as well.

The D.C. City Council may vote on the amendment tomorrow. Uber would like it if D.C. residents who care about competition in transportation services called their representatives.

Civil Forfeiture vs. Truth and Justice

Civil asset forfeiture strikes at the heart of property rights. Authorities simply seize private property without all the messiness of convicting someone of a crime. It’s blatantly unconstitutional and it shouldn’t happen, but it does. What’s worse, many state governments offer little to no information to the public about what they’re doing with those ill-gotten gains. A new report and video from the Institute for Justice illustrates the case of Georgia quite well. The video was produced by IJ’s multitalented Isaac Reese.