Cigarettes….time for a ban?

In general I’m not in favour of banning things, I’m more inclined to regulate them, and to tax so as to recoup for the society the marginal social harm that anything does. However, in the case of the ciggies perhaps it’s time to consider moving a little more along the path started by the smoking ban, and to ban the cancer sticks entirely. People are NOT addicted to cigarettes or cigars or pipe or chewing tobacco. They ARE addicted to nicotine. But nicotine can be delivered by spray, gum, patch, injection etc. nicotine is more toxic than rattlesnake venom, and acts on the mind in a way that make it super addictive.  
The overall cost of smoking in Ireland is not easy to estimate but some suggestions are that over 7000 excess deaths per annum can beat tributes to smoking. Smoking is associated with economic deprivation, something that will increase, and as such so too will excess deaths in more deprived areas. Employee costs, from fag breaks, increased absenteeism due to smoking related morbidity etc were estimated at c €400m in 2003. More recently the department of health suggests a cost overall for the HSE of €2.3b per annum. But no monetary cost can be placed on the misery of small cell carcinoma, the agony of emphysema, the dragging lethargy of congestive heart failure, the hole in lives left behind because a loved one smoked themselves to death.  
As there are plenty ways that do not seem prima facial to be as unhealthy a way to deliver nicotine than by lighting dried plants and drawing the tarry toxin laden smoke into the body, maybe Ireland could take a leap and ban the practice? Take all the nicotine you want, by other means. Iceland is mulling such a move, but of course Ireland is not Iceland…  


18 thoughts on “Cigarettes….time for a ban?

  1. Bill O'Raghallaigh

    Jim Hacker: “Humphrey, we are talking about 100,000 deaths a year.”
    Sir Humphrey: “Yes, but cigarette taxes pay for a third of the cost of the National Health Service. We are saving many more lives than we otherwise could because of those smokers who voluntary lay down their lives for their friends. Smokers are national benefactors.”

  2. Bill O'Raghallaigh

    It’s a way of looking at it. Conventional wisdom appears to be that it’s too much of a revenue generator to be touched. But I have no doubt that in 100 years time our great grandchildren will be astonished that it (smoking) was legal at all.

  3. Tim Nelligan

    Hi, Brian. As a smoker in my forties, the very thought of this terrifies me (for purely selfish, addict, reasons; I admit it). I have tried the nicotine-delivery systems you mention, but only smokers know that these are, at best, a temporary substitute; at worst, completely pointless.
    Chemical/physical addiction to nicotine requires only three cigarettes per 24hr period to maintain its presence in my system, yet I smoke thirty a day. The smoking addiction is more psychological-habitual than mere chemical dependence. It is utterly irrational in that I convince myself that cigarettes both wake me up in the morning and send me to sleep at night. Sick addiction, I grant you.
    A ban is not the solution to the problem, though.
    Billions are spent every year by both “Big Tobacco” and its opponents in a pointless competition; only this morning did I hear a radio interview about yet another campaign in Ireland that aims to stop people smoking by convincing them of the ill effect on health.
    We already know the ill effects.
    What if we were to look instead at where smoking starts: with children and young teenagers? (only a tiny percentage of smokers start their habit in their twenties or older). Though vaguely aware that smoking is bad for them and may indeed kill them, a child/teenager’s concept of precisely what that means for them in the future is limited, just as the concept of retirement/pension/old-age is. The youthful sense of invincibility militates against embracing such prudence and it is vital to note that “Big Tobacco” knows this and relies upon it to replace its dying consumers with new ones.
    Realistically, then, I propose a focus on how to prevent children and young people from starting smoking, rather than just pushing-forward with strategies to deal with those that already are addicted. Cigarettes have been “banned” for children and young teenagers since long before I started the habit, yet I was able to smoke cigarettes at the age of 10 (experimentally only) and started in earnest (and got “hooked”) at the age of 15. If we really want to tackle the problem, we should take a long term generation-length view and address the problem where it begins (in the mindset of the child/teenager), rather than where it ends (ill health effects and death of addicts).
    I distinctly remember thinking, from ages 10-15 that smokers were cool and mature; I realised at 17 that the non-smokers were and, then, began my empty promises of quitting (after my Leaving cert; after college; when my first child is born, etc).
    Neither one of my children (11 and 13yrs) smokes; I know this has alot to do with how honest their mother and I have been with them about the habit, while never banning them from trying it. They haven’t tried and they see no rebellious cahché in doing so.
    Perhaps we can start there, as a society; dealing honestly with children, rather than banning or scaremongering about ill-effects that, for young people, are light-years away from when the problem begins.

  4. DSR (@diarmuid_r)

    Banning cigarettes on the basis of cost to the public health system misses the point completely : the same arguments could be made for obesity, engaging in risk sports, riding a motorcycle or working in a high-pressure job. the correct question to ask is whether healthcare should be funded through the exchequer at all. I would suggest not.

    The law that banned smoking in public places has not had any impact on smoking levels in the general population but has had an incontrovertibly negative effect on communities and personal freedom and free markets.

    With the waning of Catholic power in Ireland, one might have thought that the days of a self-appointed, publicly funded intellectual elite spending their days dreaming up ways of protecting people from themselves were over, but clearly Mr Lucey has other ideas. It’s worth mentioning that Mr Lucey’s ambivalent to core issues of personal liberty are consistent with those of the the Labour party, a party with which he is affiliated.

    ( Brian edit here: I’m not you know. Not one bit. Some proof if that’s not too much?)

  5. David Gantly

    I’ve spent the bones of the past 10 years working in various types of research, but mostly always for commercial research agencies and I recall a friend telling me that she had attended a focus group on smoking approx.5 years ago. All resps were smokers and the group involved trying 3 different cigarettes and offering opinions on each. What struck my friend was the final tester cigarette. As the group were heading out to try it the moderator ‘mentioned in passing’ that this one was the one with “none or the bad stuff in it”.
    It seems the comment went mostly unnoticed, or no one really cared and all returned and gave their opinions.

  6. David Gantly

    I spent the bones of the past 10 years working in various types of market/social/health research and always took an interested in what the competition were doing. I recall a friend telling me that she had attended a focus group on smoking, approx 6 years ago, for a rival company. All the respondents were smokers and the group involved trying 3 different cigarettes and offering opinions on each after; flavour, draw etc. What struck my friend was the final tester cigarette. As the group were heading out to try it, the moderator ‘mentioned in passing’ that this one was the one with “none or the bad stuff in it”!
    It seems the comment went mostly unnoticed, or no one really cared and all returned and gave their opinions with no mention of what that comment meant, but it has stuck in my mind since.
    There is a lot of talk of this cigarette apparently existing, it’s a bit of a myth some say, but I can say for sure that no one in market research is allowed to lie so blatantly to anyone during a focus group. It may well exist but I can’t think of a single reason any tobacco company would want to market it without also having to admit what they have denied for so long, that smoking is highly addictive and kills people.
    If there was a ban, the first people to respond would be the tobacco companies and I suspect they have already prepared for this eventuality.
    As for the question of government interference, the nanny state etc, we’re not allowed use cocaine or heroin for the same reasons, although most drugs are far easier to process and don’t order the lucrative monopoly power that tobacco production does (weed would be legal if you couldn’t grow your own, maybe?).
    As for the government being brave enough, that’s a significant ask but no other reason beyond the health issue should be considered and smokers, like me, should be the last people asked for opinions. Addiction takes over and changes your thought patterns and basically speaks for you. Addiction becomes A-diction the place where you no longer speak for yourself, or so many of my Uni lecturers (MA addiction studies) would tell us.
    As for the consequences, all in all, 6 months after a ban, significant numbers of people would have far brighter and healthier futures and that’s well worth it. Do it!

  7. David Gantly

    (Looks like half my post didn’t make it!……in short so….
    There are rumours that this ‘non bad’ cigarette exists already but why would tobacco companies want to launch it? But, I’d almost guarantee that if there was a ban, the tobacco co’s would respond very quickly with other products.
    As for why it might not happen, tobacco takes a lot of processing and for that reason is easy to monopolise. It’s been suggested before that weed is really illegal because there’s no money to be made from it because everyone would grow their own. Tobacco is big money for those involved and for governments who don’t do numbers/data etc well (all governments so).
    A ban would have one major consequence, a hell of a lot of people with longer lives to look forward to and more money to spend too. Do it I say! (and don’t bother asking smokers, like me, for their opinions. We’re addicts so are not to be trusted for fair comment)

    1. Dreaded (@Dreaded_Estate)

      The rumours of their existence are very true!

      I have been using them for the past 6 months and found them amazing. Very few if any of the harmful effects of tobacco smoking, but a very efficient nicotine delivery system and the added benefit that I can have my vapour in pretty much any flavour I could think of 🙂

      I wouldn’t agree with the outright ban on any substance regardless of its health implications. But I think governments need to promote products that allow the safer delivery of nicotine to addicts, like myself, without all of the other fatal consequences.

  8. Elaine Hanley (@ElaineHanley72)

    As a former smoker (+8 years off cigarettes) I have really mixed feelings about this subject; I think banning sales of cigarettes would just mean a Prohibition-type black market scenario will emerge, but I believe very strongly that every effort should be made to discourage smoking – not least by the education Tim N refers to. My son (aged 10) just can’t understand why our Government allows cigarettes to be sold at all, when he sees TV ads about lung cancer etc and the existing health promotion strategies in his school – I can’t explain it to him either!

    Incidentally, I quit using a three-pronged approach; Allan Carr, accupuncture & a strong motivation to quit – it has worked for me very well, though I know one cigarette with a drink or coffee tonight would have me back on 30 by the weekend.

  9. Rodney Thom

    Three points here. First Brian was talking about the externalities associated with smoking. These are costs such as health care, lost production etc. which are caused by the smoker but fall on others. Now if you buy into that then you must accept that the externalities associated witn alcohol are at least as great if not greater than those asociated with tobacco. So if you want to ban tobacco then consistency and honesty requires that you would also support a ban on booze. Also what about gambling which also has negative externalities, ban that as well? Fatty fods, petrol etc. etc. Second, who would gain most from making tobacco illegal? My guess is the people who currently make large amonts of money from importing and selling already banned substances. Third is anyone really suggesting that at 10.30pm Saturday I would be breaking the law by watching Match of the Day enjoying a glass of whiskey and my pipe? Please save us from the Tobacco Taliban.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s