Friday, December 05, 2003

Ban smoking?

An editorial in today's Lancet suggests that smoking should be made illegal. There certainly is no doubt that smoking will make you unhealthy and in perhaps as many as 50 percent of cases, people will die prematurely because of smoking.

However, there is no case for banning it. It is not the business of the state to tell us what to do, even if it is not good for us. It is not as if smokers don't know that there are health risks attached to the habit. As one friend described it, it is the Englishman's inalienable right to be an arsehole if he so chooses. Perhaps it might be argued that the NHS has to spend more because of smokers... but tobacco taxes bring in about 8bn per year, compared to about 1.5bn expenditure required to treat smokers. Smokers currently fund about 13 percent of total NHS expenditure and receive about 2.5 percent in return. And surely the point of doctors is to let us live the way we choose as long as we can with the minimum of discomfort.

When I was 13 years old, I dabbled with smoking. My mother found out, but rather than try to stop me from doing it, she simply told me I was an intelligent person, that she couldn't stop me and that the choice would be mine. But I'd be stupid to take up the habit. Her expression of faith in my capabilities was a far better approach than trying to lecture me or forbid me. I wish public health leaders would try the same approach.

BBC NEWS | Health | UK ministers urged to ban tobacco


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