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Fuming with outrage: Nazis, nannies and smoking

A few years ago I saw a poster stuck to the wall of a train station in Copenhagen. The poster was a protest paid for by a prominent Danish musician against new regulations against smoking in public. At…

If you treat smoking as a purely personal choice you’re not giving enough weight to the impact of dying young. stolenscript/Flickr

A few years ago I saw a poster stuck to the wall of a train station in Copenhagen. The poster was a protest paid for by a prominent Danish musician against new regulations against smoking in public. At the top was a sarcastic “Congratulations on the smoking ban” followed by the German phrase “Gesundheit Macht Frei” (good health makes you free).

You might think invoking “Arbeit Macht Frei,” the slogan above the gates at Auschwitz, to complain about not being able to smoke in bars is pretty tasteless. More likely than not, it’ll also distract from the message you’re trying to send.

So, lesson learnt, defenders of smoking: no more comparing smoking ban proponents to Nazis, okay?

Enter The Australian’s Adam Creighton, comparing the Rudd government’s increase on tobacco excise to the anti-smoking campaigns of Nazi Germany. This should end well.

Now, to his credit, Creighton isn’t just running a lazy “argumentum ad Hitlerum” i.e. “You know who else hated smoking?” Rather, he’s claiming that Australia’s attempts to discourage smoking are “being sold with the same flawed economic and moral arguments that underpinned Nazi Germany’s policies.” Which arguments are these?

Individuals and the State

What the Nazis and the Italian Fascists believed, roughly, is that individuals only have significance and purpose through and in the State. This sort of totalitarianism is indeed repugnant, not just because of the suffering it causes, but because of the distorting and reductive view of the moral value of human beings it presents.

poolski/Flickr

Against this, Creighton appeals to the liberal harm principle, as championed by figures like John Stuart Mill. Again, very roughly, this principle states that we’re only entitled to interfere in the actions of others where those actions cause harm to other people. You are morally permitted to do whatever you like so long as you’re not harming anyone else in the process.

So according to defenders of smoking, coercive attempts to reduce smoking infringe on an area that, so long as no-one else is affected, is properly a matter of free individual choice. Creighton accepts that restrictions on smoking in public are legitimate given the dangers of second-hand smoke, but punitive measures designed to stop people smoking are not:

government should butt out of individuals' decision to smoke privately, or to engage in any other behaviour that might entail personal costs without harm to others.

Part of the reason Mill’s harm principle is intuitively satisfying is that individual liberty does matter. Both classical liberalism and its more radical libertarian offshoot respond to genuine and important features of the moral landscape: all else being equal it’s better if we let people do what they want. At its best, strident liberalism is a healthy bulwark against excessive paternalism and coercion.

But these positions also rely on a hopelessly atomistic picture of what human beings are. They see each of us as a free, rational, self-contained, self-directed agent, an independent, sovereign individual living alongside other sovereign individuals, entering into free contracts for mutual benefit.

Where does harm end?

Philosophers have spent a lot of time taking that view of human nature apart: we are far less free, transparent-to-ourselves and rational than liberalism (and the economic theories it underpins) assumes. We’re also far more radically interconnected and dependent upon others. Our borders are considerably more porous than the sovereign individual model would suggest.

But even within his own liberal worldview, Creighton’s argument runs into serious problems. For one thing even Mill had to allow that there are some harms you’re not permitted to inflict even upon yourself, such as selling yourself into slavery or committing suicide.

If you wrestle a gun away from a would-be suicide, we don’t take you to be committing assault – but surely killing yourself is an essentially “private” matter if anything is? If we’re allowed to stop people throwing themselves off bridges, why aren’t we entitled to at least make it harder (if not impossible) for them to kill themselves with tobacco?

And is smoking only a harm to the individual? The harm principle notoriously runs into problems with questions like this. Creighton insists that things like the “psychological costs of premature death” are “purely personal costs” and so none of the state’s business.

But of course death does not only affect the person who dies; deaths ramify through families, friendship circles, workplaces, social networks – just where does the private end and the public begin?

Shutterstock

There’s more

And then there’s this:

Amazingly - given smokers choose to smoke – popular estimates of “net costs” ignore any personal benefit smokers might derive from smoking. And they disregard the offsetting savings from substantially lower health and age-pension costs as a result of smoking-induced premature deaths.

You read that right: we should factor in the money we save from smokers dying early as a benefit.

And therein lies the problem: casting this wholly as a private, personal freedom issue is basically a refusal to take the moral gravity of premature death seriously. That, in turn, involves denying that persons have an intrinsic worth, beyond whatever economic or social value they might happen to have – to understand the value of persons you have to understand what is lost to the world when they die, and vice versa.

Those who complain about a “nanny state” trying to stop people from getting themselves killed are ignoring the significance of death and the responsibilities that generates. And an outlook that thinks we should weigh that human tragedy against the money it saves us has long since lost any right to call itself morally serious.

None of this should be read as a plea to ban smoking: prohibition doesn’t exactly have a glittering history of success anyway. To reiterate, personal freedom matters, and we often need to leave people alone to make their own objectively dreadful choices.

But that right of non-interference may not be absolute, as the suicide and slavery examples show; and there is plenty of scope for policy moves designed to discourage people from harming themselves.

Of course, ideally we wouldn’t need to interfere in people’s lives at all. If you don’t want a nanny telling you what to do, maybe it’s time to grow up.

Join the conversation

104 Comments sorted by

  1. Sean Lamb

    Science Denier

    There was a story a decade or so ago about how in Dachau restorers had uncovered the outlines of the word "Verboten" (forbidden) on one of the buildings. The German press went into overdrive trying to speculate what it was had been Verboten - talking? smiling ? laughing? joy?
    It turns out it was Rauchen Verboten (smoking is forbidden)
    "You read that right: we should factor in the money we save from smokers dying early as a benefit."

    No, it is saying that arguments that smokers cost the state or public purse are incorrect. Smokers are not a drain on the public purse. The taxes on cigarettes bring in far more than is required to directly fund their smoking related health costs. And when you factor in whole of life health costs then smokers don't cost more than non-smokers in any case.

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    1. marioPS

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      Sean: making some might wild claims there ... got any (credible) proof to back 'em up?

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    2. Sean Lamb

      Science Denier

      In reply to marioPS

      Specifically what are you disputing?

      The part about Dachau was from Herbert Marcuse's book on Dachau as a memorial.
      The part of health costs was based on analysis from the New England Journal of Medicine - which wasn't including taxes - just trying to model smoking health costs versus the health costs of a longer life. The exact outcome depends on the assumptions made, but either way it is a lineball call.
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9321534
      "CONCLUSIONS:

      If people stopped smoking…

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    3. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to marioPS

      Mario, actually all Sean is doing is trying to give this topic some logical moves, and some evidence.

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    4. Eddie Jensz

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to David Thompson

      No, David, what Sean is doing is rationalising or rational lying because he is making the assumption that the study quoted was not funded by the tobacco lobby and he is also ignoring the more important issue of the serious health affects of second-hand smoke to non-smokers which lead to higher health costs.

      As an instance each week I walk to a radio studio to broadcast and my route takes me through an arcade where there are invariably smokers smoking in my path. Now I am not seriously considering…

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    5. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Eddie Jensz

      Eddie, you have presented ZERO evidence to support your claim. If the study was funded by the tobacco lobby, the onus is on you to show that. Your primary claim is simply an attempt to discredit Sean's argument and unless you can back it up, it fails.

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    6. Stephen H

      In a contemplative fashion...

      In reply to Sean Lamb

      Sean, that's an "interesting" study. In a very brief glance:

      1. It only looks at health care costs (rather than all costs associated with being a smoker)
      2. It is in a totally different country to Australia (The Netherlands), but then relies on some data from the US
      3. How does this study account for public health systems vs. private, public pensions vs. superannuation, and other factors?
      4. What about third-party impacts (second-hand smoke etc.)?

      Sorry, but relying on that particular…

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    7. Chris O'Neill

      Victim of Tony Abbotts Great Big New Tax

      In reply to Eddie Jensz

      "the more important issue of the serious health affects of second-hand smoke to non-smokers"

      Indeed, this issue has still not been properly dealt with yet. Trying to coerce smokers into giving up is not yet the main issue.

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    8. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Stephen H

      "Of course, I could point out that it's an economic paper and so cannot claim much science (put one economist in a room and he'll disagree with himself), but there are plenty of other arguments against it."
      Perhaps. But if there are, they were not made in this article.

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    9. Stephen H

      In a contemplative fashion...

      In reply to David Thompson

      David, you may want to note that my comment addressed Sean Lamb and his link to a study from The Netherlands. I'm not sure exactly what point you're trying to make, but it APPEARS as if you're somehow trying to link one sentence from my comment on that study back to the article.

      Can you please clarify exactly what your point is?

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    10. Eddie Jensz

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to John Phillip

      Since Sean relied entirely on one only study of the cost of health effects of smoking I feel I am justified to question the source and the funding of that source. If his evidence was more rigorously researched and other evidence was offered for his conclusions then maybe I would not have been so doubtful about his source.

      I would further repeat as I said in the previous post, "The total cost of smoking related health problems in Australia have been investigated ad nauseam since the 1960's and at no time were there credible arguments that suggested the taxes paid for cigarettes, over and above normal sales taxes, would cover the cost of these smoking related health problems. "

      Sean's point, as I see it, is that the cost of the cigarettes to the addict more than compensates the government for the additional health costs. This assertion is not proven at all in his comments.

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    11. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Eddie Jensz

      Eddie, I still think you need to have more evidence if you are trying to discredit Sean's reference on the basis that you think it might be sponsored by the tobacco industry. If you are correct, show me some proof and I'll happily eat humble pie. If your assertion is false, what you've said is not only defamatory, but it cruels the credibility of your own argument. The article itself looks like a well-written and researched piece item and it does support Sean's position. Have you read it?

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    12. Eddie Jensz

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to John Phillip

      If ypou refer to the source material which Sean used you will also find cross references to other studies, four in all, which made contradictory findings from those made by the study Sean has relied upon. The very study which Sean referred to was not exhaustive and includedextrapolated results rather than a longitudinal study which makes its findings rather less reliable than the evidence from other studies which you can find reference to here : http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9463152.

      I am no more sure that the study Sean has relied upon was funded by the tobacco lobby than he is that it is not, however when I find a study which clearly conflicts with previous and current other research my suspicions are always piqued.

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    13. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Eddie Jensz

      Eddie, the conclusion stated in the abstract of the article that you refenced was: "If people stopped smoking, there would be a savings in health care costs, but only in the short term. Eventually, smoking cessation would lead to increased health care costs." (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9321534).
      Another study at the same link finds: "Lifetime health cost savings of smoking cessation to society are substantial at younger ages, in terms of both direct and productivity costs." (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16014659)
      The contradictions would tend to argue against discrediting the findings in the article Sean referenced.

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  2. John Perry

    Teacher

    I come from a working-class background so therefore never met a "nanny" and didn't even know the meaning until I kept hearing it from right-wingers using it as a disparaging term. Obviously the family backgrounds of those people made them more familiar with the concept - most likely they grew up with nannies keeping them from wreaking havoc on the world.

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    1. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to John Perry

      John Perry,

      I have never had a nanny either, but that has been no impediment in my understanding of the term.

      I recommend reading. It does wonders for your education.
      </sarc>

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    2. John Perry

      Teacher

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Chris, perhaps the rhetoric of my comment was a little too nuanced. You might want to read it again to see what I was actually trying to say.

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    3. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to John Perry

      John,

      Apparently I am not the only person who doesn't 'get' nuance.

      Nuance piled upon nuance.

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    4. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Chris, adding a tu quoque defence to literal mindedness...maybe you need to do a little bit more reading...

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    5. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      Felix,

      What I find worrying is that you might even believe what you wrote.

      Sometimes, sarcasm really is followed by sarcasm.

      I would have thought the </sarc> might have been a hint, even to the hard of understanding.

      But then, without being sarcastic, there are still many people who don't know even the basics of HTML, so that might have been a bit too subtle for some.

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  3. Judith Olney

    Ms

    <"Of course, ideally we wouldn’t need to interfere in people’s lives at all. If you don’t want a nanny telling you what to do, maybe it’s time to grow up.">

    Who is the "we" mentioned in this statement? Personally I try not to interfere in the lives of others, and I certainly have no need to interfere.

    Is the author suggesting that being sceptical about the way in which the state is increasingly interfering in the lives of its citizens is immature?

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    1. Byron Smith
      Byron Smith is a Friend of The Conversation.

      PhD candidate in Christian Ethics at University of Edinburgh

      In reply to Judith Olney

      "Who is the "we" mentioned in this statement?"
      I take it that the "we" to which Dr Stokes refers would be society as a whole, acting through its political authorities to limit injustices.

      "Personally I try not to interfere in the lives of others, and I certainly have no need to interfere."
      So, on this reading, you do interfere with the lives of others in all kinds of ways: every time the political authorities who represent you fine someone for speeding, arrest someone for fraud, tax someone to pay for your medical expenses (and so on), "we" are interfering in the live's of others.

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    2. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Byron Smith

      Then the "we" to which you believe Dr Stokes is referring to would be an exclusive society which believes it has the right to act against a minority in matters that are personal and private, for no other reason than that they can. I say this because there are already laws to prevent people from harming the community with their habit, and these laws have a better than 95% compliance rate, (at least in my state of WA which has the toughest anti-smoking laws in Australia), so if public safety is not…

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    3. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Judith Olney

      "...an exclusive society which believes it has the right to act against a minority in matters that are personal and private, for no other reason than that they can." - That last phase is misleading. We have a very good reason to try to get people to not smoke: to reduce the tragedy of premature death.

      I agree we need to be very, very sparing about intervening in people's lives, and that's one of many reasons I'm not advocating prohibition (of tobacco or anything else). But "well if they want to kill themselves it's entirely their own business" is not an attitude that takes human life, and the tragedy of death, sufficiently seriously.

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    4. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      You said: "We have a very good reason to try to get people to not smoke: to reduce the tragedy of premature death."

      Rock climbing causes premature death. So does surfing, marathon running and travel of any sort.

      Once you acknowledge the validity of that argument, as a reason to interfere with individual behaviour, you have legitimised interference in any and every sphere of human activity. It is the argument of totalitarianism.

      Sorry, but I reject that argument wholesale, as a matter of principle. My health is my concern, it is none of your business.

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    5. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      As a society, (and not just ours), we do not take human life or the tragedy of death seriously, unless of course it is in our own self interest to do so, which is often economic self interest these days.

      What about those who's death effects no one, those that are alone, are alienated and excluded from society etc, those who's family, (if they have any), could care less if they died?

      Where does the line get drawn? To me it seems very arbitrary, why pick on smokers, why not use the same laws and price mechanisms to interfere with those that are eating or drinking themselves to death?

      I don't believe that this behaviour, (the punishing, denigrating, and vilifying of particular groups, using the excuse it is for "their" own good), has anything to do with caring about human life or the tragedy of death. In my view it is about the need of human beings to have an enemy, and smokers are the state sanctioned enemy of today.

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    6. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Could you please answer this query Patrick,

      Is the author suggesting that being sceptical about the way in which the state is increasingly interfering in the lives of its citizens is immature?

      As in your final paragraph.

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    7. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Thanks Chris, you make a very good point, worth repeating,

      <"Once you acknowledge the validity of that argument, as a reason to interfere with individual behaviour, you have legitimised interference in any and every sphere of human activity. It is the argument of totalitarianism.">

      My thoughts exactly.

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    8. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Of course your health is my concern, Chris: you're a person, persons have intrinsic worth, and so it's an objectively awful thing if you die needlessly; and it's part of my responsibility as a moral agent, so far as is within my power, to prevent awful and preventable things from happening.

      But the key word here is 'needlessly': your capacity to live a good life may well depend upon doing things that are inherently risky, such as rock climbing or surfing or hiking up Everest. And these are activities…

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    9. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Judith Olney

      "What about those who's death effects no one, those that are alone, are alienated and excluded from society etc, those who's family, (if they have any), could care less if they died?" - such a death only doesn't matter if we take a utilitarian line. I don't: persons matter intrinsically, not simply because they make others happy or spend money or feed the local pigeons or whatever.

      That said, your points about vilification are very important and valid ones. Still, some people do things that are in fact against their own good; pointing that out needn't descend into denigration (though I can see how it easily could).

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    10. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Judith Olney

      "Is the author suggesting that being sceptical about the way in which the state is increasingly interfering in the lives of its citizens is immature?" - No, absolutely not. I'm suggesting that killing yourself slowly with tobacco is pretty clearly a dumb thing to do.

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    11. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Patrick,

      Here we have a problem of polymorphism. We are expressing two different meanings of the word ‘concern’.

      You sound to be a properly compassionate person, but that compassion does not confer on you a right to interfere. Off the top of my head, the only basis in which you have any right to intervene is in the case of an emergency when I am unable to express my preferences, or other circumstances where my well being is at stake and I am also unable to reasonably express my preferences.

      Neither of those pertains to the issue of smoking. While you, as a decent person, may be concerned for my welfare, it is nonetheless, none of your concern.

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    12. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Chris Harper

      To simplify the argument - your right to an opinion on the matter does not confer on you the right to act.

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    13. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      <"I'm suggesting that killing yourself slowly with tobacco is pretty clearly a dumb thing to do.">

      So you are suggesting that adults don't do dumb things?

      What about killing yourself slowly with eating too much, or drinking too much alcohol, or indeed risking a quick death with extreme sports, or driving a motor vehicle?

      I would suggest that killing the planet we rely on for our own survival is a dumb thing to do, but I don't see society interfering with people's ability to do this.

      Perhaps your final sentence was simply a nasty dig at those you believe are immature compared to yourself.

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    14. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Well if 'concern' is causing confusion here, substitute 'responsibility.' There's a sense in which I'm not ultimately responsible if you kill yourself, but nonetheless it is part of our responsibility, individually and collectively, to do what we can to stop people from dying needlessly. That needs to be balanced against the legitimate demands of personal freedom; but 'balanced' doesn't mean 'completely overruled.'

      As stated in the article Chris I do think there's a very large zone in which we…

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    15. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Judith Olney

      And we do actually take some measures to stop people from eating too much, drinking too much etc. Again my point is simply that objective harm reduction and respecting individual liberty have to be balanced. Some risky activities are unavoidable or involve risks that are greatly outweighed by the benefits; and some are just silly.

      So yes, there is something childish about people who complain that the 'nanny state' is taking away their inalienable god-given right to do dangerous things that serve little or no purpose.

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    16. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Thank you for clarifying your position. However I disagree that we are taking measures, such as the ones designed to punish smokers, against people who eat too much or drink alcohol.

      Your comments about smoking being dumb, lead me to the conclusion that you fail to understand the nature of addiction. If, as a society, we were really concerned with people's health, rather than just needing a group to vilify and hate, we would acknowledge that smoking, (like problem gambling and alcoholism), are…

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    17. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Judith Olney

      That's a very good point about addiction Judith and I agree entirely - there need to be at least as many carrots as sticks, and the measures you suggest seem very sensible.

      And yes, while there's an argument that making dangerous behaviors too expensive is one of the most effective ways to stop them, you also raise a very important point about governments making money out of addicts. (Similar points can be made about gambling revenue). Perhaps it partly depends on how the revenue is spent, but making ourselves dependent on ongoing revenue from self-destructive behavior is pretty rank. (I saw figures once that suggest Australia alone spends on gambling each year roughly what the entire world spends on cancer research - maybe cigarette tax revenue should be reserved for funding quit programs, cancer research and so on?)

      For the record, I certainly don't hate smokers. I grew up around smokers. Not all of them are still with us - and they should be.

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    18. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      <" maybe cigarette tax revenue should be reserved for funding quit programs, cancer research and so on?)">

      Absolutely, this would show that at least the ethics of such a measure as increasing this tax were in the right place. I also think this would very quickly lead to a reduction in smoking rates as it is then a policy geared towards helping people quit. As smoking rates decline, the revenue collected would also decline, but at the same time the need for the services this revenue pays for would…

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    19. Lynne Newington
      Lynne Newington is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Researcher

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Well, I was going to say we are our brothers keeper, but you hit that on the head. But I still maintain, we shouldn't be a stumbling block to others, that goes for gambling too....and I can't see much sense in having all these taxes only to pay for the detrimental results and effects whatever they may be not only to self but to others.
      Deep down, at the end of the day it really matters.

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    20. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      BTW Patrick, I do realise that you personally don't hate smokers, but you are after all just one person in a very big society, and a society that does indeed hate and vilify people for smoking, (regardless of their habit being an addiction). There is far more hate directed at the addicted, than is directed at those that produce the product smokers are addicted to.

      Having seen what appears to be a need of many people, to be able to have an enemy they can direct their hatred towards, (made far easier…

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    21. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Chris Harper

      But, what is the nature of the 'act'?

      Patrick notes that he intends discouragement (or even just removal of encouragement, like plain packaging attempts to do) not an actual ban. The latter would arguably be an infringement (and almost certainly ineffective anyway and prone to creating a whole new class of harms in its attempt to remove the initial cause) but surely the former is no kind of infringement.

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    22. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      Patrick, it's a bit odd you have no problem with what "right" the government has here, yet can find no "right" for a government's leader to quote the Constitution!

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  4. Russell Hamilton

    Librarian

    I'm sure I've read, more than once, that a very large proportion of smokers (90%?) very much wish they had never started to smoke. I think that's worth taking into account when deciding if these policies are taking away people's freedoms.

    People take up smoking when they are immature. Policies such as raising the price result in fewer people taking up smoking when they are immature. Given that almost all smokers later regret having started their habit, it's a justified and sensible policy.

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    1. Sue Ieraci

      Public hospital clinician

      In reply to Russell Hamilton

      That's the point, Russell - well said. People can choose to continue smoking if they must, but not where the smoke can affect other unwilling inhalers. And increased prices may well discourage young people from taking up the habit and developing a life-long addiction.

      Sensible public health measure without prohibition. Doesn't sound very nannyish to me.

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    2. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      "And increased prices may well discourage young people from taking up the habit and developing a life-long addiction."
      Peer-pressure, shaming, refusing to pash them, and calling them a 'bogan' would help a lot as well. Few 17 year olds are THAT resistant to peer effects.

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    3. David Thompson

      Marketing Research

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      Sue, as you know, I'm prone to the odd anti-nanny rant. But on one issue I would pay nanny double-time and a half. And that one issue is smoking. Why? For the simple fact is Tobacco spent nearly fifty years spending gazillions to stop their customers getting the information that smoking will kill them. The ONLY force/power that had even a dream of being able to square off with Big Tobacco was the State. I'm not an anarchist. The State is inevitable in large, settled, technologically advanced societies. So I say, OK, I'll agree to give the State a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, but my agreement is subject to the State's reasonable use of that violence. I'm not sure how short of extra-judicial corporate assassinations I would have assented to by not speaking out, but I dare, I'd have let a few thousand Big Tobacco exec's funerals go by before making a peep. ;)

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    4. Cate Smart

      logged in via email @iinet.net.au

      In reply to Sue Ieraci

      I am a chronic asthmatic who is very badly affected by cigarette smoke. Smoke as much as you like you smokers, but please shut yourself in a room or a car, and leave my lungs alone!

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    5. Leigh Svendsen

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to David Thompson

      Still spending David, and still lying about the health problems. Look at what is being promoted in countries such as Indonesia!

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    6. Eddie Jensz

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Russell Hamilton

      I totally agree with this because, as a reformed smoker with more than thirty years of freedom, I know that my smoking started as a result of peer pressure when I was 14 years old but ended when I was 29 years of age.

      During my smoking phase I must have tried to quit ten to twelve times before I eventually did the "cold turkey" version and have never regretted it.

      Quitting was an act of free choice whereas my decision to start smoking was more due to a type of coercion from my peers.

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  5. Graham Dawson

    logged in via Facebook

    "You read that right: we should factor in the money we save from smokers dying early as a benefit."

    If the cost of smokers on the health system is routinely used to justify tobacco excise, which it is, then of course we should.

    Your arguement against individual autonomy on the grounds of the interconnectedness of our lives with many others would seem to justify repressive measures against any risky activity.

    I'm a non-smoker, and the considerable number of smokers who appear not to regard their butts as litter certainly test my patience. I have though self-interest in their cause; I know once they are defeated that my enjoyment of a cleansing ale, a nice glad of red, or warm single malt, will come into the sights of those who know best.

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    1. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Graham Dawson

      <" I have though self-interest in their cause; I know once they are defeated that my enjoyment of a cleansing ale, a nice glad of red, or warm single malt, will come into the sights of those who know best.">

      Good point, it seems now that our society has decided that it is no longer acceptable to hate people because of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, society has turned to the issue of risky activities as their state sanctioned vehicle for hating. I suspect that once there are no more smokers, (which is likely to be fairly soon), that the obese, and those addicted to alcohol will be targeted. We are already seeing the beginnings of the hating towards the obese, and I expect this to escalate. This also serves the purpose of allowing those that are simply overweight to feel better about themselves, and as they are the majority in our country, obesity seems the natural target.

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  6. Leigh Burrell

    Trophy hunter

    "an outlook that thinks we should weigh that human tragedy against the money it saves us has long since lost any right to call itself morally serious."

    That's a dishonest and unfair misstatement of the point being made - specifically, that an attempt to estimate the net cost should consider all relevant parameters. I see no reason to infer that it constitutes per se an argument in favour of smoking. It was a criticism of popular estimates, no more.

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  7. Garry Baker

    researcher

    Not a bad approach to the subject, however when it comes to weighing the costs to others directly affected by the dying smoker - well one could say that mountain climbers live closer to the edge as well Indeed, come to think of it, plenty of non smokers take up pursuits the Nannies would like banned

    Nannies they are, alright, all too often converting their cause to nothing more than a money grubbing exercise. Why, just a few days ago another author here declared that it was a -" Myth that…

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    1. Mark Amey

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Garry Baker

      'Older folk for instance, who have smoked all of their lives and don't have much around them, suffer from these addictions, and nowadays many have turned to shoplifting because their pensions won't stretch far enough.' Yet my 80 year old father, and 76 year old step-mother STOPPED smoking, when they could no longer afford it....whodathunkit!

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  8. jose correa loureiro junior

    jailguard

    The society has its own mechanism that surges the evidence of equilibrium from the unanimous good sense that always come to the surfice of things.
    What is wrong is the state starting to give excessive importance to what is clearly not the thing that deserves their intervetion, as we have seen nowadays, with other subjects also, to dissimulate the real purpose of elected citizens that should take serious matters to work on (but they cann't loose the chance to really make a paternalistic good…

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  9. Liam J

    logged in via email @gmail.com

    The modern fashion of judging smokers would have more credibility if equal opprobrium was directed at much more destructive behaviours like excessive energy/fossil fuel consumption. Smokers only harm themselves and nearby others, hyperconsumers harm all people & generations to come. This isn't an argument against taxing smokers, its just that the arguments some use to support it highlight our rampant hypocrisy.

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    1. Judith Olney

      Ms

      In reply to Liam J

      Excellent point Liam, and it seems that this issue is raised, (even though the measures already in place have worked to prevent public harm from smokers, and smoking is continuing to decrease, not increase), whenever some bigger moral issue is prominent, such as the way asylum seekers are treated, or the way we are destroying the planet by burning fossil fuels, or even the immorality of treating the poor badly.

      I find that I am very cynical about the reasons put out by politicians , when they seek to again get out the anti-smoking punching bag and give it another whack. So much easier than tackling problems like fraud, greed and corruption in their own ranks, or in the corporate world, and really big issues such as climate change and the pollution of the planet.

      We aren't becoming a nanny state, we are becoming a totalitarian economy.

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  10. James Jenkin

    EFL Teacher Trainer

    Patrick, you point out 'even Mill had to allow that there are some harms you’re not permitted to inflict even upon yourself, such as selling yourself into slavery or committing suicide'.

    These aren't just random harms. They're ones whereby a person 'abdicates their liberty'. In other words, slavery or death.

    Mill was philosophically rigorous. These are very carefully chosen exceptions to the harm principle.

    Mill never suggested we intervene to reduce self-harm in areas where a person 'might die if they're unlucky' - riding a horse, swimming, drinking alcohol, or smoking.

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    1. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to James Jenkin

      Excellent point James. Two quick responses:

      1) It's worth noting that while Mill made exceptions for abdication-of-liberty harms, some other liberals and more particularly libertarians (e.g. Nozick) have been prepared to say we should be allowed to abdicate our liberty in these ways if we wish. This raises the question of why Mill thought this class of harms was somehow different or special when others just as or more concerned with personal liberty have not. Remembering that Mill takes his liberalism…

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  11. James Jenkin

    EFL Teacher Trainer

    'You read that right: we should factor in the money we save from smokers dying early as a benefit.'

    Sorry, Patrick, you read that wrong. Creighton never said people dying early was a benefit. He just suggested the argument that smokers cost the community financially - one used by supporters of the tax increase - is incorrect.

    It's a separate point, not in any way related to liberals' view of society and the individual.

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  12. Brynn Mathews

    logged in via LinkedIn

    Putting aside the individual and community health issues (easily done as a life long non-smoker) the ecological, land use, health and social impacts of tobacco production (and environmental contamination from improper butt disposal) should be enough reason to stop smoking. Having lived in two tobacco growing areas (the Kiewa Valley in Victoria in the 1970s and Far North Queensland in the 1990s) I'd seen at first hand the soil stripping properties of tobacco and its high demand for fertiliser and…

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    1. Mark Amey

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Brynn Mathews

      I agree with all of the above, and would add, that, if any industrial process generated the same stench as cigarette smoke, it would be either subject to protective inhalation equipment, or removed to some remote locale, away from others. Unfortunately these polluters gather outside shopping centres, workplaces and public hospitals, thereby exposing other so to these toxins.

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  13. Ray Hughes

    IT Worker

    The petulant argument against regulation of smoking ("nanny state infringement of individual rights) is typical of the lack of depth of most libertarian arguments.

    "The government is just like the Nazis because it is regulating to stop Me from smoking, when it should be My decision."
    "The local council has no right to stop Me from playing My music as loud as I want, when I want."
    "I have a right to do x and the state should stop telling Me what to do."

    It's the argument of a three-year-old…

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  14. Mike Swinbourne

    logged in via Facebook

    Spring must be just around the corner - I have just seen a Godwin!

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    1. James Jenkin

      EFL Teacher Trainer

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      I agree with you Mike - I'm sympathetic to libertarian arguments but bringing in Hitler is just ridiculous.

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    2. James Jenkin

      EFL Teacher Trainer

      In reply to James Jenkin

      Oh, and libertarians should stop saying 'nanny state' - it's simply cringeworthy, like 'moving forward' or 'folks' or 'stop the boats'.

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  15. Chris Harper

    Engineer

    You said: "You read that right: we should factor in the money we save from smokers dying early as a benefit."

    Yep.

    If you are going to discuss financial cost to society, you discuss all the costs, not just the ones which selectively support your predetermined position.

    It is called honest accounting.

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  16. Venise Alstergren
    Venise Alstergren is a Friend of The Conversation.

    photographer, blogger.

    The year is two thousand and thirteen AD. Yet do we suffer the idiotic memes of those who set themselves up to defend the individual, and his/her right to keep on smoking. And nothing seems to reignite the flames of fury more than the Government raising the tobacco tax. Suddenly we are inundated by shouts of 'nanny state(ism)', 'Nazi attitudes' and 'bullying the poor.' The greatest crime we commit is simply 'being horrible to the giant tobacco companies.' And today I came across an American…

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  17. Patrick Stokes

    Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

    Thanks for the comments everyone. Just to clarify one point that several people have made: I'm not arguing with Creighton's claim that smokers pay more in tax than they cost (that would be a job for an economist). And if you take it that all he's doing with the point about smokers dying earlier saving us money is trying to get an accurate picture of what smokers cost the health system economically then that's valid so far as it goes.

    But it doesn't go very far. My concern is rather that Creighton…

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    1. Leigh Burrell

      Trophy hunter

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      "My point is rather that pointing out that people dying saves us money, even if there's a strictly economic sense in which that's true, downplays or ignores the full tragedy of death, and thereby the intrinsic, non-economic value of persons."

      Pointing it out in the context of challenging a cost estimate ignores or downplays nothing of the sort. The author's talking dollars. You're rebutting with emotions. Once again, you are simply appealing to pity.

      Care to tell us what you think WOULD be an appropriate context in which to call for rigour in cost estimates?

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    2. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Leigh Burrell

      "You're rebutting with emotions. Once again, you are simply appealing to pity." - Actually a lot of what I've written here sounds (uncharacteristically) like Kant, who dismissed emotion, and particularly "melting compassion" as being of any ethical significance. (For the record I think he was completely wrong about that). But despite this, he still argued that persons as ends in themselves have a particular intrinsic dignity and value that means they cannot be used in certain ways. So no, I'm not appealing to pity, I'm appealing to moral philosophy - which is, after all, how we address moral questions.

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    3. Leigh Burrell

      Trophy hunter

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      The author wasn't addressing a moral question in the passage you responded to. You answered a criticism of a cost estimate with an appeal for us to compare it to a tactless comment about a dead mum. Why should we do that?

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    4. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Leigh Burrell

      Again, I wasn't commenting on Creighton's criticism of the cost-estimate itself. I'm saying that bringing the savings into a discussion of whether or not we're entitled to use (frankly fairly mild) coercive techniques to stop people from dying needlessly is morally blind. (Just as in the dead mum example, the person making that statement doesn't understand the significance of a life being lost).

      Or to put things more bluntly: "smokers die sooner and therefore cost the state less than they would have they lived" might be literally true (I have no idea but I'll take Adam's word for it*) but it does not make their deaths any more acceptable.

      *I got a very nice tweet from him after the article came out so I'm just going to go ahead and call him 'Adam' here.

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    5. Leigh Burrell

      Trophy hunter

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      "I'm saying that bringing the savings into a discussion of whether or not we're entitled to use (frankly fairly mild) coercive techniques to stop people from dying needlessly is morally blind."

      Can't bring savings into a discussion of a NET cost estimate? Only in the fantasy world of morally serious academic wowsers. Who said NET cost first in the argument? I'd argue they were the one to bring savings into the discussion. Anyone who talks about NET costs brings it into the discussion. That's a long list of people for you to tut-tut for for their moral blindness.

      This has become tiresome. You're sounding like a broken record.

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    6. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Leigh Burrell

      So let me say this yet again: yes, you can talk about cost-savings from dead smokers in a net *economic* cost estimate.

      But bringing that economic saving into the overall moral deliberation is perverse: "So how much money do we save if we let x number of people die? Is that a good deal?" Echoes of Harry Lime's speech on the Riesenrad in The Third Man (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8i47-QBL4Qo&t=2m7s):

      "Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped…

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    7. Leigh Burrell

      Trophy hunter

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      "So let me say this yet again: yes, you can talk about cost-savings from dead smokers in a net *economic* cost estimate.

      But bringing that economic saving into the overall moral deliberation is perverse:"

      Nope, that wouldn't work at all. In practice we could potentially end up conceding that smoking saves the community money, while at the same time being obliged to accept into the "overall moral deliberation" without challenge an argument that it costs us money. That's just plain nutty.

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    8. Leigh Burrell

      Trophy hunter

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      You:

      "he’s claiming that Australia’s attempts to discourage smoking are “being sold with the same FLAWED ECONOMIC and moral ARGUMENT that underpinned Nazi Germany’s policies.”

      The cool figure to throw around at the moment is $31 billion or thereabouts. It was mentioned by Rudd in support of the policy change. Creighton's comments on net cost are made in the context of questioning that figure.

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    9. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Leigh Burrell

      I'm not disagreeing with any of that; I'm saying that limiting the policy aspects to the purely economic costs, as Creighton seems to want to do, misses the whole point. And bringing in the savings achieved from dying smokers is emblematic of what's wrong with that approach.

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    10. Leigh Burrell

      Trophy hunter

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      "I'm saying that limiting the policy aspects to the purely economic costs, as Creighton seems to want to do, misses the whole point."

      There are many "points" in the discussion and I don't see Creighton missing any of them. You concede that he is also a critic of the moral arguments.

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  18. Rick Fleckner

    Student

    The thing is, cigarette excises are imposed on products manufactured by commercial interests. If it was legal to grow your own, as it used to be, then the problem is solved as far as smokers are concerned. The argument has been hijacked to an extent, by the health lobby. Tobacco excise was always about revenue, not health. It is certainly fair to restrict public smoking just as alcohol consumption in public is restricted. It is very easy to make your alcohol drinks at home, many people indulge in this practice. Growing your own tobacco on your own property for your own use should not be a criminal offence. Whether you have the right to on - sell it is another matter.

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  19. Nev Norton

    Farmer

    I'm a little bemused about this article of Patricks, and you can be reasonably assured that it is exactly what the government was hoping for, to draw the conversation away from being a blatant tax grab and into the murky mists of moral reasoning a thoughtful and caring government wants to portrays. I'm surprised that they weren't giving a speech on how our morals are such that we won't countenance funding from tobacco industries and you know what, we won't accept votes from the dirty low life smokers…

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    1. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Nev Norton

      Oh I'm sure the current excise hike has everything to do with budget Nev; I doubt Chris Bowen suddenly came to the conclusion that tobacco is 25% more harmful than he'd previously believed. Doesn't obviate the moral issues though, which is precisely what Creighton, by invoking issues of the state's relationship to the individual, chose to address.

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    2. Venise Alstergren
      Venise Alstergren is a Friend of The Conversation.

      photographer, blogger.

      In reply to Nev Norton

      Do you think the commentariat are so effing silly they are unable to deal with two issues at once? I thought it was only rurals who were guilty of that.

      Yes, of course it is a tax grab. So, also is the amount of taxpayers' money which goes to subsidise/support/underwrite/aid/whatever the rural sector. Governments make tax grabs. It is the nature of the beast. HOWEVER, tobacco has a great many very unpleasant, side effects.

      MORALS: You mean it is moral to-by default-to just let old people die, children to become addicts, giant tobacco companies to make vast profits out of people dying from rotting lungs, plaque filled veins, hearts dead at forty, double amputees, and all the other horrors.

      I can't imagine that if given the same chance as Oz governments in the 1920s, that even Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce would allow cigarettes to be sold. And, of course when/if Abbott is the leader of this country, he will automatically rescind this iniquitous tax. Won't he?

      <sarc>

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    3. Hilton Holder

      Businessman

      In reply to Venise Alstergren

      As far as I can tell, we're born and then our lives belong to us, not to the state nor to society nor to our neighbours. Our lives are ours. So should a powerlusting politician then be allowed to stand on a soapbox and declare that all of us have a "right" to free healthcare and that he'll get his guys to steal a little from each of us every month to pay for it, if only he gets enough votes. Would this kind of legalised theft somehow become OK because everyone votes for it?

      I'd say that except…

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    4. Nev Norton

      Farmer

      In reply to Patrick Stokes

      I agree Patrick, it doesn't obviate the moral issues, what I was alluding to was that I don't believe that you can really have an isolationist set of morals on smoking alone, surely smoking has many interconnecting and intersecting moral positions that weave through every aspect of society as a whole and need to be considered as a whole before one could arrive at a definitive position, which was where I was going with my herding cats statement.

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    5. Steve Phillips

      Nurse Practitioner

      In reply to Nev Norton

      I agree totally. The Govt is skint and needs any way it can to show some 11th hour fiscal responsibility.

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    6. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Hilton Holder

      Nice rant Hilton. except you missed the point slightly.

      No-one is taking away your right to smoke. If you want to do so, feel free to smoke to your heart's content (but that old saying is rather ironic in this context isn't it).

      All the government is doing is increasing the tax on tobacco. So what? Last time I looked, just about everything is taxed. It's how governments raise revenue to pay for all those services we keep demanding. You know - roads, police, hospitals etc.

      So you go ahead, keep up the good fight agains "socialism", whatever that is supposed to mean. But be a good chap and pay your taxes in the process.

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    7. Hilton Holder

      Businessman

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Thanks for putting me straight in such a schmaltzy and cultured supercilious tone Mike.

      Silly me, here I was naively thinking that the only morally justifyable reason we have for government was so it could act as an agent to protect our individual freedoms, (the freedom to act in the support of our lives.)

      The alternative is of course that we each go around with our own weapons, like in the wild west.

      Now I know the reality here is far from ideal. The general populations' brains are so…

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    8. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Hilton Holder

      ".....Thanks for putting me straight in such a schmaltzy and cultured supercilious tone Mike...."

      You're welcome.

      "...Silly me, here I was naively thinking that the only morally justifyable reason we have for government was so it could act as an agent to protect our individual freedoms, (the freedom to act in the support of our lives.)...."

      Then you are correct - your thinking is extremely naive.

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    9. Venise Alstergren
      Venise Alstergren is a Friend of The Conversation.

      photographer, blogger.

      In reply to Matthew Thredgold

      MATTHEW THREDGOLD: Surely being 'optional' would make it a very clever tax, as anyone with any brains/contol/whatever would refrain from using that particular option?

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    10. Venise Alstergren
      Venise Alstergren is a Friend of The Conversation.

      photographer, blogger.

      In reply to Hilton Holder

      Of course people have the right to follow their own path. But if that path leads to the whole community having to pay the medical bills for the other people who have continued with a ruinous addiction, it becomes a community issue.

      I don't have any issues with people wishing to pursue extreme sports, or Euthanasia, or Abortion, or Alcohol. But I'm strongly anti-smoking. Ditto anti-gambling machines-sorry, pokies.

      In case you wish to know, I was an addict who smoked sixty cigarettes a day. One day I became aware of what smoking can do to people, so I quit. Cold Turkey, no patches, no pills, nothing. It wasn't easy, in fact it was difficult. Difficult but doable. If I can do it, anyone can do it-if they try hard enough.

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  20. Steve Phillips

    Nurse Practitioner

    Just as an example of how savng lives can lead to higher health care costs, tka heart attacks. This is a subject I can confidently expound on having spent several years at RPH Cardiology and done a post grad in the same.
    We can pull people back from the brink of what would have been certain death only a few years ago.
    Even those with massive damage to the hert tissue. However some of these go on to develop heart failure and this leads to very very expensive medical and surgical intervention. In 6 short years we saw a massive increase in heart failure cases and transplants many of whom would not have survived. This is overwhelming the resources available.
    It sounds heartless (no pun intended) to say that when we save or otherwise prolong lives the net cost to the community goes up in years to come.

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  21. Matthew Thredgold

    Software Engineer/Secondary Teacher

    Of course smoking should be banned in all public places, indoor or out. It is a stinky nuisance.I don't want to smell it and when a smoker walks past someone they don't know then they should assume that the person doesn't want to smell it. It is incredibly bad manners to inflict the nuisance of smoke on to some one, and if smokers aren't going to learn aabout manners then we need legislative protection against their bad choices.

    Although I say I support a ban in all public places I have no problem with a complete ban of all tobacco if it means a ban of smoke in public places is less likely to be breached.

    Stadtluft macht frei. (Old German proverb, and nothing to do with 20th century fascism, rather the joie de vivre of city life, which is denied to me on air pollution grounds at the moment)

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    1. Patrick Stokes

      Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University

      In reply to Margo Saunders

      Thanks for this Margo. I found this sentence particularly interesting in the context of the line Creighton is running about public vs. private costs and the claim that smokers 'choose' to smoke: "By assuming that smokers therefore intentionally bear the costs of their smoking behaviour, ACIL categorises the costs they incur as 'private' rather than 'social' costs. However to the extent that smokers are not aware or are irrationally addicted, at least some proportion of these costs will be social costs."

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  22. Louise Wilson

    Logician

    I smoke, but would prefer not to.

    There are all sorts of addictions, gambling, alcohol, eating. I once heard on the radio that one in every two cigarettes smoked in Australia, was smoked by someone with a mental health condition, and that seems feasible to me.

    There's an interesting perspective over at http://connetica.com.au/_blog/Blog/post/tobacco-taxes/

    I have a solution to the problem - increase the legal age for consuming tobacco products by a year, every year - eventually the current smokers will die off and we should be smoke free. It would cause a slight hassle if you had to prove your age every time you bought tobacco, but it seems to be the only solution that does not impinge on existing smokers' rights.

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