Unlike immigration, which as I said is a complicated issue with no simple, pat, one-line solution, the issue of smoking from a Libertarian viewpoint is pretty cut-and dried (pun discovered only after proof-reading). So this will be a much shorter post.
Let me get the standard declarations out of the way first. I don’t smoke. Never have, never will (if you’ll ignore the one time when, at age thirteen, out of curiosity, I smoked five cigarettes in a row, was sick for the next day and decided to part company with tobacco permanently). I hate the smell of cigarette smoke, it makes me feel physically ill, and I avoid public and private spaces where smoking is permitted. My home and my truck are no-smoking areas, and when my brothers (both smokers, as were my parents) come here to visit, they know smoking is outside and downwind only.
That said, I have no problem at all with other people smoking, as long as their habit doesn’t affect me. Why should I care if someone wants to open a smoking bar or smoking restaurant? I’m not going to frequent it, but I’m sure there are plenty of smokers who will. I agree 100% with Dr Dave’s story about a smoking bar in an airport, sealed and pressurized so no smoke emanated to the broader environment. The idea that someone is forbidden to allow smoking in their own private establishment smacks of rank totalitarianism and Nanny-Statism at its worst.
Smoking is an unhealthy and risky habit. So are plenty of other activities in life. Do we ban them all on that account? Googling this tells me that a pack-a-day man with a 35-year habit has about a 1 in 33 chance of developing lung cancer. I assume similar sorts of numbers in regards to such things as heart disease, emphysema and stroke. The information available on this subject is so ubiquitously and publicly available that no-one under the age of about seventy can claim any longer that they took up the habit without knowing the risks. You pays your money, and you takes your chance.
But like all statistics, it’s never that simple. Never smoking doesn’t get you off the hook, either. According to this article,
A full 25 percent (for women), and 20 percent (for men), of lung cancer cases are among people who have never smoked. Smoking is the single most important risk factor, but others include exposure to asbestos (especially in conjunction with smoking – the two together are worse than either separately), exposure to radon, and second-hand smoke. Other substances interact with smoking and make it worse – smokers tend to drink more, which in turn affects how well the body eliminates cancerous cells. There are many suspected culprits as well, from environmental pollution to cooking oil, to poverty and genetics. Just as a heart-healthy person can die of a heart attack, a nonsmoker can die of lung cancer.
Dave and anyone else working in the health industry, feel free to expand on these numbers to your heart’s content. You know, it always amuses me how, whenever I visit a major public hospital, at any time of the day or night, there are at least half a dozen orderlies, doctors and nurses outside the front doors or in the courtyard, puffing away. There has to be a moral in that somewhere.
By way of comparison, becoming President of the United States of America carries with it a one-in-eleven risk of death by assassination (assuming the incumbent isn’t popped too). And Brucker Bummer says he quit the habit when he stood for the Oval Office? The fool could simply announce he’s not running in 2012.
As to the costs of health care, there are two scenarios; both of them user-pays. If you’re going to have a system of socialised medicine which covers treatment for smoking-related diseases, then cover it by taxation. As I understand it, it’s a relatively straightforward actuarial exercise to calculate the elevated health costs of smoking to society (this includes not only the smoker, but those, for example, affected by passive smoking, and children whose mothers smoked while pregnant). Then divide it out to fix, once and for all, the tax on a packet of cigarettes.
In this scenario, that tax on a packet of cigarettes should not exceed the additional cost of healthcare smokers create by virtue of their habit. If it exceeds this amount, if cigarette taxes are simply poured into consolidated revenue, then that makes the government the biggest nicotine addict of them all! This, unfortunately, is the case in Australia, where tobacco, alcohol and gambling are some of the few means by which state governments may raise significant taxes directly. It means smokers are paying a disproportionate share of our roads, sewers and politicians’ overseas junkets to health administration conferences.
The alternative is simply a user-pays system of elevated smokers’ premiums for private health insurance (which happens anyway). In this scenario, the government may offer only palliative care for a smoker not covered by private insurance. As I can attest, death by lung cancer is a pretty horrible affair, and I’m not sure every society has the stomach to face this harsh reality. But either way, if it’s a user-pays system, Libertarianism dictates each person may decide the risks he chooses to take in life; again, so long as he isn’t projecting those risks onto anyone else.
And finally, as to restrictions on smoking in public places: well, common sense should prevail. I don’t have a huge problem with keeping the No Smoking signs up in places where one person’s smoke can’t help but affect those around them: subways and other enclosed and underground areas, for example. Remember, Libertarianism involves a minimum of personal restriction, with the proviso you’re not impeding anyone else’s liberty—like fouling the air they breathe. For the rest, it shouldn’t be too hard to organise designated smoking zones whose location and amenity should serve the needs of smokers, while not impeding anyone else’s activities. I really can’t see the downside, for anyone except those who feel they know what’s best for everyone else, and seek to impose their will on the rest of us for our own good.
Or is this all too simplistic? Someone help me out.