27 August 96
No to more curbs on smoking
Dr Michael Fitzpatrick explains why he is against the proposed curbs on
President Bill Clinton's proposals to label tobacco a 'drug of addiction'
and to subject the industry to stricter regulation through the Food and
Drug Administration have provoked a predictable uproar from cigarette
manufacturers. Clinton's anti-smoking measures are however popular among
radical anti-tobacco campaigners and medical and public health authorities
on both sides of the Atlantic. Demands for similar restrictions on the sale
and advertising of tobacco products-and criticisms of tobacco company
sponsorship of sporting activities and academic institutions-are certain to
intensify. Just as Clinton calculates that his gesture in taking what one
commentator calls 'the moral high ground' against tobacco will enhance his
position in the forthcoming presidential contest with Bob Dole (already
identified as a friend of the tobacco industry) so we can expect that New
Labour will take a firmer anti-smoking line.
The fact that smoking is bad for health has been widely recognised for at
least 30 years, contributing to a steady decline in cigarette consumption
in the USA and Britain. It is true that, within this general pattern of
decline, there has been a slight increase in smoking among young people and
among women; there is also a striking trend for poorer people to smoke more
than those on higher income.
Why do people continue to smoke even though they know that it is bad for
them and even though cigarettes are expensive? The reasons are undoubtedly
complex. No doubt young people smoke partly in defiance of the advice of
their elders. Interviews with young women with children who smoke suggest
that they enjoy having a cigarette as one of the few things they do just
for themselves, providing a moment of self-indulgence in a life dictated by
the demands of others.
Whatever the reason people continue a habit that may have detrimental
effects on their health, more restrictions on smoking are likely to benefit
only politicians out to make moral gestures. They may make cigarettes more
difficult to obtain and more expensive-tobacco revenues are already one of
the most regressive forms of taxation-but they are unlikely deter smoking.
Indeed, like recent anti-drug campaigns targeted at young people, they may
well produce a contrary effect.
The most damaging aspect of the clamour for curbs on smoking is the image
of the pathetic individual it promotes. From the perspective of the new
moral guardians of public health we are all so feeble and vulnerable that
we need special protection from the fiendish cigarette advertisers who may
otherwise dupe us into buying their deadly products if we so much as
glimpse a cigarette company logo on the shirt of a cricketer or tennis
player. While emphasising their concern to discourage children from
smoking, they want to treat us all like children. As we are thought to be
incapable of making our own judgements, they are going to step in to
protect us from ourselves. Once duped by the advertising, we will be hooked
by the nicotine, the pathetic victims of a form of chemical addiction which
then destines us to premature death-unless we are fortunate enough to be
rescued by long-term professional counselling or some other form of
The moral high ground of the public health zealots now patronised by
Clinton and Blair presumes the degradation of the citizen of modern society
to the level of helpless child or depraved drug addict. It's enough to make
you crave a fag.
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