Thursday, August 21, 2003

More on smoking

The smoking issue has really been heating up on the Irish blogs over the past 48 hours. At the Broom of Anger MaBear (a smoker) has weighed in on the side of the ban. Meanwhile, Frank (non-smoker) and Dick (smoker) continue the back and forth arguments for and against the ban.

MaBear has a good description of the culture of smoking in Ireland. The comments on the Broom of Anger are also worth reading.

Here are the key questions, as far as I see them. Do we want to totally stamp out smoking? If yes, how do we go about making that happen?

The answer to the first question for me is easily yes. I don't smoke; I hate the smell of smoke. I find people who smoke less attractive to look at and be around. I derive absolutely no pleasure or benefit of any kind from smoking.

However, there are obviously many people who do derive some pleasure (or other benefit) from smoking. Is it the government's role to dictate that they may no longer enjoy that benefit? I suppose it is to some extent since the government picks up such a large chunk of the health bill. So, I as a taxpayer want the government to do what it can to eliminate the costly effects of smoking. One way to accomplish that is through massive taxes on cigarettes to cover the health costs, which seems to already be the case.

So, although I'd like smoking to disappear, I can live with the fact that for many people this is an example of excessive government intrusion in their lives. To my mind, the government intervenes in our lives all too often. And, possibly too often, my instinct is to react against that intervention. MaBear's comments got me thinking. What should the government's role (if any) be?

MaBear makes the point that this generation is a write off, but that future generations will benefit if they can have smoke-free lives. I can't disagree with that.

If the government were really serious about eliminating the problems of smoking, it would simply ban the sale of cigarettes (and cigars, etc.). The least the government could do is stop selling cigarettes itself. The government owns Aer Rianta, which operates the airports. And, the airports sell a lot of cigarettes - many duty free. Why? Why is the government selling cigarettes duty free or even selling them at all? Aren't duty free sales of cigarettes only encouraging extra consumption of cigarettes?

I'm sure there are a lot of other examples like this.

If the government is going to try and save the future generations from smoking, is a ban on smoking in pubs the place to start? Why not ban the sale of cigarettes in all outlets other than pubs? At least in pubs you (theoretically) already have an "adult" (18+ anyway) clientele? Why should my local newsagent stock cigarettes?

The government is not trying to eliminate smoking for future generations, just impose greater restrictions on how we choose to live our lives (that is, where people can and cannot smoke).

I say again - I can't stand cigarette smoke. I wouldn't want to live with a smoker or work near a smoker. I applaud when private initiative is used to make smoking less socially acceptable. In this case, the government is simply giving into some notion of what's the right thing to do and not making a serious attempt at reducing this country's cigarette addiction.