Tobacco is one of the most widely-used recreational drugs in the world; mainly in the form of cigarettes, but also in cigars and pipes, and in combination with cannabis and marijuana in 'joints'. Although most countries put age restrictions on its use, over a billion adults smoke tobacco legally every day, and supplying this demand is big business. As well as having serious health consequences for smokers themselves, the pollution of other people's atmospheres with cigarette smoke also makes this an environmental issue. Attitudes have changed rapidly over the past twenty years.
In the developed world, public opinion has shifted against smoking. By the 1990s, the sheer weight of evidence had forced major tobacco companies to admit that their products are both harmful and addictive. Many governments have substantially increased taxes on tobacco in order to discourage smoking, and often to alleviate the economic costs of smoking-related illness. However, while smoking has declined amongst some groups, it has increased amongst others - particularly young women. Meanwhile restrictions on the industry in the developed world have seen a new emphasis on developing nations, and new markets. Governments have decided on imposing many strategies to reduce the number of smokers.
Key questions for this debate are: Is it the proper role of government to legislate to protect citizens from the harmful effects of their own lifestyle decisions? Does tobacco advertising increase tobacco consumption? Do health warnings, however much of the cigarette packet they cover, reduce consumption? What would be the effects of banning smoking in all public places, or even completely?
This debate focuses on the question, what is the best strategy regarding consumption of tobacco. Does the state need a mechanism to prevent tobacco consumption at all? Is the number of affected people and budget expanses better controlled by a ban or by other measures?
This argument is built on the premise that a ban or higher taxation in practice will lead to less smokers, especially protecting the families of smokers and other non-smoking citizens from potential health risks and premature death.
Smoking also has wider effects, not simply restricted to smokers themselves. So-called 'passive smoking' is becoming an important issue: in a smoke-filled environment, non-smokers are also exposed to the risks associated with tobacco. Especially when it comes to homes and families there is a high likelihood of "passive smoking". Research suggests that partners of smokers have an increased chance of developing lung cancer, even if they do not use tobacco products. Recent research even shows, that according to the Journal Archives of Pediatrics, children living in households of smokers are more prone to mental illness, depression and attention deficit disorder (ADHD)1.
So because restrictions on smoking prevent harm risks to families of smokers and third parties we should highly regulate or ban them.
First of all, a ban on smoking might just lead to people deciding to turn on to the black market for tobacco, not solving the problem of passive smoking or any other effects. Same also goes for the possibility of higher taxation, people might just choose a relocation of funds due to higher prices of cigarettes.
Further on, if we do accept the premise, that smoking will maybe decrease, the evidence for passive smoking is very slim indeed, with very few controlled studies having been carried out. At most, those who live with heavy smokers for a long period of time may have a very slightly increased risk of cancer.
Also it is true that smoke-filled environments can be unpleasant for non-smokers, but there are reasonable and responsible ways around this - smoking rooms in offices and airports are an excellent example. Some bars and restaurants may choose to be non-smoking establishments, giving customers the choice to select their environment. Allowing people to make their own, adult decisions is surely always the best option.
A ban or high restrictions is a good measure to diminish the effects of smoking in society, because unlike the spreading of information (which is usually done by schools / clubs), governmental restrictions or a total ban will ensure the access of measures to the whole population. Through a ban on advertisement or higher taxation those citizens not involved in active educational structures get educated about the problem.
Studies on the ban of advertisements show that bans actually contribute great amounts to the reduction of smokers. "The tobacco industry employs predatory marketing strategies to get young people hooked to their addictive drug," said Dr Douglas Bettcher, Director of WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative. "But comprehensive advertising bans do work, reducing tobacco consumption by up to 16% in countries that have already taken this legislative step."1
So because these measures can drastically decrease smoking when other measures have failed, the state is right to impose bans on advertisement, higher prices or any other measures.
How can it be that only tobacco companies get singled out and told not to advertise their products, while many others (such as prescription drugs) are allowed to market their products? There are many products which are hugely dangerous, take alcohol for example. Whilst drinks can be advertised, in the UK they must also carry a drink responsibly warning. Why can tobacco companies not do the same especially when you consider how much more immediate the danger from alcohol is?
There is little doubt that smoking tobacco is extremely harmful to the smoker's health. In the US, for example, research by the American Cancer Society suggests that tobacco causes up to 400,000 deaths each year1 - more than AIDS, alcohol, drug abuse, car crashes, murders, suicides, and fires combined. World-wide some 5 million people die from smoking each year2 - one every ten seconds - which estimates suggest will rise to 10 million by 2020. Smokers are up to 22 times more likely to develop lung cancer than non-smokers, and smoking can lead to a host of other health problems, including emphysema and heart disease.
In a democracy the people elect leaders and trust them with a term, where their duty is solely to look after the wellbeing of the country and its citizens. The politicians, having the resources and time, are well equipped to make a better and more informed decision on activities dangerous to the individual, others and the society. Therefore one of the principles is, that elected representatives have to make sure their citizens get the best possible protection in society. Even if this infringes on some of their rights. That is why taking hard drugs and breaking the speed limit are also illegal. It would therefore be reasonable to ban smoking or limit with different means the usage of tobacco - an activity which kills millions of people each year.
Precedent is that if a company produces food that is poisonous or a car that fails safety tests, the product is immediately taken off the market. Since all cigarettes and other tobacco products are poisonous and potentially lethal, they should all be taken off the market. In short, smoking should be banned or very harshly regulated.
While a government has a responsibility to protect its population, it also has a responsibility to defend their freedom of choice. The law steps in to prevent citizens causing harm to others, whether deliberately or accidentally. However, it should not stop them taking risks themselves - for example, dangerous sports such as rock-climbing, parachuting or motor-racing are legal. It is also legal to indulge in other health-threatening activities such as eating lots of fatty foods, taking no exercise, and drinking too much alcohol. Banning smoking would be an unmerited intrusion into personal freedom.
As the proposition points out, cigarettes are not dangerous because they are defective; rather they are inherently, potentially, harmful. But people should still be allowed to choose to buy and smoke them. A better comparison is to unhealthy foods. High cholesterol or a high intake of fat can be extremely harmful, leading to heart disease, obesity, and other conditions; but manufacturers of these products are not punished. Consumers simply like the taste of fatty food. People should be allowed to smoke cigarettes and to eat fatty foods - both these things are sources of pleasure which, while having serious associated health risks, are only fatal after many decades, unlike a poisonous food or an unsafe car, which pose immediate and high risks.
Cigarettes are so common that there is hardly any chance all the people will stop. What will happen is that policies, regarding tobacco regulation or banning will mainly restrict the possibilities of the poor.
In 2009, in the US, a law to triple the federal excise tax on cigarettes was signed, which meant that the federal tax on cigarette jumped from 39 cents per pack to $1.01 today. The administration projects, that such a "sin tax" will bring in at least $38 billion over the next five years. Smokers, usually coming from lower socio-economic backgrounds (getting welfare, unemployment or disability checks instead of paychecks) still pay the whole cigarette tax, while they do not get the same amount of funding as others. Anyone concerned about widening income inequality should have second thoughts about this distribution of the tax burden1. Effectively this means, that while a higher financial burden might not cause problems to high and middle class smokers, it will cause the poor smoker, to either limit the freedom of choice by not buying cigarettes or either make sure other necessities, such as food, other supplies will not be provided. In fact researchers estimate that in Bangladesh 10.5 million people are going hungry and 350 children are dying each day due to diversion of money from food to tobacco2.
The current situation is that poor turn to "shag" or rolling tobacco for self-made cigarettes, which may then be more harmful as the state cannot control it's ingredients as thorough or in the end even turn to the black market of tobacco farmers, where there is no control
People often express concern about taxes harming the poor, since they are both most likely to smoke and the least able to afford it. But when tobacco prices are kept low, more poor people use tobacco, and thus waste more of their money on it. In Bangladesh, as prices have remained low over the years, per capita spending on tobacco has increased. While raising taxes may harm some poor individuals who are unable to quit, in many situations this problem is alleviated by the existence of alternate low-cost tobacco products. To the degree that these are minimally advertised and unpalatable, they may be a resource to the addicted while being unlikely to attract the uninitiated. In addition, if the policy benefits a large number of poor smokers but harms a few, then the decision may have to be made to tolerate the harm in order to benefit the many.
Negative effects can be addressed through programs to help the poor quit, or to subsidize a food substance generally consumed only by the poorest1.
The principle of democracy is to let people make their decisions and to ensure, that the decisions they make are as informed as possible. Due to the maximization of an individual's happiness the government should only have the possibility to give information to their citizens and let them all decide, how they want to make use of their freedom of choice.
One of the options is a targeted campaign against smoking and information on smoking harms. Actually, the National Bureau for Economic research states that there has not been enough investment in counteradvertising, which is designed to reduce consumption and also fits into the framework of a response function."The counteradvertising response function slopes downward and is subject to diminishing marginal product. The levels of counteradvertising that have been undertaken are small in comparison to advertising. The empirical work finds evidence that counteradvertising does reduce consumption."1
So before limiting the citizens freedoms the state should try the "soft line" with informing their citizens.
Rather than the state pouring money into campaigns, they should spend it on other more important things, such as improving the health system, infrastructure or other, more important things.
The UK Department of Health doubled its media spending from less than
Freedom of choice is what differentiates democracies from dictatorships, autocracies or any other form of government. It goes by the principle, that the individual is free to do, whatever he or she wants, as long as this choice does not limit the freedom of choice, bodily integrity or any other human right of another individual in society.
This also applies to smoking. While the law steps in to prevent citizens causing harm to others, whether deliberately or accidentally it should not stop those taking risks themselves.
The state allows individuals to make lifestyle choices that endanger their life all the time. Because there is not difference between smoking and the other life endangering activities, banning or severely regulating smoking would be an unmerited intrusion into personal freedom.
Smoking is not a real choice, as nicotine is an addictive drug - in fact; recent allegations suggest that tobacco companies deliberately produce the most addictive cigarettes they can.
Up to 90% of smokers begin when they are below the age of 181, often due to peer pressure; once addicted, continuing to smoke is no longer an issue of freedom of choice, but of chemical compulsion. Like other addictive drugs such as heroin and cocaine, tobacco should be banned since this is the only way to force people to quit. Most smokers say that they want to kick the habit
The lesson of prohibition of alcohol in America in the 1920s was that banning a recreational drug used by a large proportion of the population merely leads to crime and contraband.
A case of this is India, where the contraband trade of cigarettes consists of the international brands that are smuggled into India and the duty evaded cigarettes manufactured domestically by small and unscrupulous manufacturers. "With steep duty increases over the last few years this segment has grown exponentially," the Tobacco Institute of India states1.
Not only is there a case to be made for a flourishing black market, countries lose with this control over the products and can harm their citizens even more with not controlling the consumed substances.
Most people who smoke tobacco are law-abiding normal citizens who would like to stop. They would not resort to criminal or black-market activities if cigarettes were no longer legally available - they would just quit. Banning smoking would make this happen and massively lighten the burden on health resources of the countries in which it was banned. The reason why such actions may have happened in India was probably poor regulation of the market or mainly poor execution of already set out rules. Something that is easily preventable in Westernized countries.
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