Has the War On Smoke Gone Too Far?

By Oliver J. Pike

Tobacco and the act of smoking have once again come under attack by nanny state policies across the globe. Supranational organisations such as the EU and WHO have continually opposed several unhealthy behaviors including smoking and member states and their leaders appear happy to toe the line and become puppets for these unelected health nuts. While smoking is unhealthy and is a cause of avoidable death there is a number of factors completely ignored by all this well-meaning public health posturing.

The most important consideration is that smoking and its related health problems become a problem after long and excessive use of tobacco and the personal responsibility of the user must be looked at rather than the state when thinking about limiting use or quitting.

Regardless of this, public health officials and politicians adopt a different approach and attempt to force those who have decided to make unhealthy decisions into making healthy ones. The logic used is that lives will be saved or public health will be improved therefore action is justified. However, this logic could apply to an almost endless list of other things. Will junk food, alcohol, fast cars and contact sport be next on the chopping block? Undoutoubly they will as the era of lockdown proves the government's appetite to interfere with the minutia of people's lives for the benefit of "public health" is a new motif of the 20s.

The second line of argument used is that smoking harms others through secondhand smoke. Have those making this argument not noticed that the banning of smoking indoors has all but removed such risk? Furthermore, any small amount of secondhand smoke inhaled in a beer garden simply does not satisfy the requirements of the harm principle to justify such state intervention. Further to this the smoker and those around them are capable of mitigating these risks (if they actually care about them as much as the government).

`In the UK a target of 2030 has been put on a smoke-free Britain, In New Zealand, the idea of banning the purchasing of cigarettes by those born after a certain year has been floated and in America, the government has joined the misguided war on menthol. The main reason why these proposals are unnecessary is that they are no longer and arguably never were proportionate. The ageist policy proposals of New Zealand and the unenforceable nanny state wet dream of Britain's benevolent civil service are an unwarranted attack on behavior that is becoming less of a problem every year.

People choose to smoke and are well aware of the risks. After all the ability for tobacco companies to advertise on their packaging has been outlawed and replaced with hyperbolic warnings about all the gory things that tobacco can cause. On top of this the invention of vaping, the existence of older methods of quitting and a healthy dose of personal responsibility are all available to them. The state should be content with the work it has already done. Banning smoking in pubs, outlawing advertisements, and taxing tobacco to the point of unaffordability have significantly reduced smoking. However, credit should also be given to the free market for providing new ways to quit and the general understanding of health increasing amounts the public. People are now smoking less than they once did and can quit far easier than was possible in the past. Why does the government think that now is the time for this sort of action? Even if the government did get involved in some of the ways previously mentioned black markets could spring up and less strict measures such as the ones introduced on NHS grounds in 2007 will simply go ignored and unenforced.

An argument can even be made that existing measures go too far. The banning of smoking in pubs takes choice away from the owner. Instead of telling pub owners what to do with their pub, parliament should leave them to make decisions for their business. The optimal decision is in most cases a separate outside smoking area to attract non-smoking customers (the majority). While it appears to be a no-brainer the principled position should be that such decisions are left up to the pub. Imagine if a pub wanted to include a cigar lounge. By interfering in the way the government has denied any situation where some level of indoor smoking would be a good business decision. The outlawing of advertisement is another obvious interference with the free market and sin taxes placed on tobacco products hit the poorest hardest as Wealthier people are capable of absorbing the charges places on meat, sugar, alcohol and tobacco while the poor must sacrifice more of their weekly budget to the things they want to enjoy in the same way as wealthier people do.

Smoking is certainly not a healthy activity but if we are to begin walking down the path of puritanical micromanagement anything deemed slightly opposed to public health will be targeted for destruction and a joyless nation will remain as a result. This would not only be a misdirection of resources and time but it is also an expansion of the state's responsibility into the private lives of citizens where its concern is not necessary or welcome.