Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Piecemeal prohibition – the anti-smoker agenda

The anti-smoker brigade and their allies in government will tell you at every opportunity that smoking is the single biggest cause of preventable death worldwide. The question which immediately arises is why the zealots don't simply lobby for outright prohibition on the manufacture and distribution of tobacco products?

And, the short answer is that it's all about the money.

For example, the anti-smoker cult in the US is lamenting a substantial loss of funding as governments at the state level reduce the amount of financial support provided to the anti-smoker zealots. “Overall funding on tobacco control is down because of dramatic cuts in state spending in recent years,” Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told the New York Times in July, 2010.

The Times article also noted that, according to a report prepared for the anti-smoker fanatics, state funding for anti-tobacco programs dropped to $567 million last year, from $717 million two years earlier, a 21 percent decline in anti-smoker spending in just two years. The report bears the logos of the biggest players in the anti-smoker industry; the Cancer Action Network, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, and of course, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

And, there can be little doubt that anti-smoking has morphed into an industry. A cute little chart in the report shows that state governments confiscated 209.3 billion dollars from tobacco consumers from 2000 to 2010, while spending “only” 7.04 billion on “tobacco prevention”. That doesn't include the additional billions from federal excise taxes.

Nor does the spending on tobacco control include spending by the federal government or foundations such as the Robert Wood Johnston Foundation, the Legacy Foundation or funding provided by the pharmaceutical industry.

It's clear that full scale prohibition would have an immediate and dramatic adverse impact on tax revenue for governments at all levels. In truth, governments have become addicted to the revenue generated by tobacco taxes. The anti-smoker cult simply can't afford to antagonize their political allies by demanding full scale prohibition and jeopardizing that tax revenue.

In turn, the loss in tax revenue would have an adverse impact on the funding levels of the the anti-smoker zealots and compromise their ability to conduct their denormalization campaign against smokers.

There are additional negative consequences to outright prohibition of tobacco products which might make it unacceptable to government: the resulting job loss in the tobacco industry and small business enterprises (convenience stores, for example) dependent on tobacco sales for substantial portions of their income, the prospect of a flourishing black market, and the strong possibility of a public backlash against such draconian infringement on personal liberties.

The immediate financial and social consequences of prohibition could be catastrophic. And, there would be no resulting compensatory benefit from savings in health care costs for decades, if they materialize at all.

This leaves the anti-smoker fanatics, and the blinkered governments which support them, in a very difficult position. Despite their ultimate goal (the eradication of smokers), they can't afford the social and economic disruption which would result from outright prohibition.

So, they continue their efforts to denormalize smokers and make smoking unacceptable in the eyes of the general public, while they consider the ways and means of achieving their ultimate objective.

These problems are acknowledged in a recent research paper from Singapore: “Thus, although the endpoint of a total ban is highly desirable, the political reality is that it is only by a phased, long-term introduction that such a ban is likely to be achieved.”

And, their solution?

“We propose, alongside current under-age bans, the introduction of laws banning the provision of tobacco to any citizen born in or after a specific year, suggesting the year 2000 as it is convenient for recall by all parties. The proposal introduces the concept of tobacco-free generations that will never legally be able to take up the harmful habit of smoking, at any age.”

Uh-huh. As far as smoking is concerned, no one born after 2000 would ever reach adulthood; they would never be legally permitted to buy or use tobacco – ever.

The authors of the paper believe such a gradual approach to prohibition would eliminate the current obstacles to achieving their utopian smoke free society. “Our proposal minimizes immediate hardship to tobacco stakeholders. Those currently legally smoking maintain the legal right to continue.”

It's a novel idea; stripping future adults of their rights while they're too young to appreciate the difference. But if that idea seems a little over-the-top, the fanatics are also exploring other alternatives.

For example, another proposal mentioned in the research paper would ”transfer responsibility for manufacturing and supplying tobacco to an enterprise with the mandate to achieve a timetabled reduction in tobacco”.

According to that proposal: “The elimination of profit driven behaviour from the supply of tobacco would enhance the ability of public health authorities to reduce tobacco use.” Uh-huh. Just nationalize the tobacco industry, turn it over to some unidentified non-profit (anti-smoker) authority and let them gradually choke off the supply of tobacco.

Many years ago, we used a process, most often referred to as brainstorming, as a problem-solving technique. The idea was simply to consider all possible solutions to a problem, no matter how preposterous. But, those potential solutions considered too far-fetched usually wound up in the discard bin.

Obviously, to the anti-smoker fanatics, no solution to the “tobacco problem” is too radical.

3 comments:

Man with Many Chins said...

My solution to the tobacco problem is simple.

Reduce all spending on tobacco control to zero. Once the zealots no longer have a cushy paycheck, they can find someone else to hector, nanny and dominate.

Kantiki said...

You're right about the money. While taxes haven't reach the levels they were at in Germany in the 40s, an entire twelfth of the funding for Hitler's military came from tobacco taxation. Incredible!

I do want to note that the prohibition on cloves and other flavored tobacco has lead to a black market that has undercut the minimum age on tobacco in America. If they banned all tobacco, there would be absolutely no minimum age and I would not be surprised to see a resurggance of gangs such as when alcohol was prohibited.

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