Or I’ll Huff, And I’ll Puff…

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.

Why quit? He (and everyone else) would be better off if he simply Quit.

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.

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13 Responses to Or I’ll Huff, And I’ll Puff…

  1. Dr. Dave says:

    It is all but impossible to defend smoking but the rights of the smoker are something else again. The most sanctimonious anti-smoking zealots are former smokers and healthcare professionals. Smoking is, however, an individual’s own choice. I am far more annoyed by tyranny than I am by cigarette smoke. I believe the expectation of a non-smoking environment is reasonable in places like public libraries, grocery stores, subway stations and the like. When I lived in Texas there was a little, old, privately owned convenience store and bait shop about 10 miles down the road. The couple who owned it sat around in THEIR store all day and smoked cigarettes. The same was true for a little feed store around the corner. I suspect that today, because the establishments are “open to the public” that the owners have been forced to make their own property non-smoking. Airports are a different matter entirely. Because of airport security measures, people, smokers and non-smokers alike, are essentially held captive in these places for hours at a time. I believe reasonable accommodation should be made for smokers just as we do for those with disabilities. What really annoys me is when government forces private businesses to follow politically correct mandates. As far as I can tell smoking is prohibited in virtually every business in the county where I live. How far is too far?

    Smoking used to be ubiquitous. When I was in college there was a smoking section in the university’s medical library! About 30 years ago nearly 50% of the adult population of the US smoked. Today it’s more like 20% and this was achieved through a combination of eduction, taxation and stigmatization…not outright prohibition. Smoking has become socially unacceptable. At first the changes were subtle. Smoking was forbidden on aircraft. Then it disappeared from hospitals and government buildings. Increasingly private restaurant owners made their establishments non-smoking environments. This was all quite acceptable. But it was not enough for the tyrannical statists. Now in some states and localities the owners of private establishments no longer have a choice about whether their business will be smoking or non-smoking. I think it’s bizarre that a patron of a privately owned bar cannot smoke within the confines of the establishment even with the proprietor’s consent but instead must go outside and stand on a public sidewalk to smoke.

    Much of this anti-smoking fervor was built on flawed studies that claimed to make a positive link between second hand smoke and health risks for non-smokers. I recommend this article by Professor S. Fred Singer: http://www.americanthinker.com/2010/12/second_hand_smoke_lung_cancer.html

  2. Kitler says:

    So what happens when smoking and drink are taxed beyond the means of most people and revenue dries up? Another consequence would be people not dying of smoking or drinking related illnesses meaning a lot more people are going to live longer and require more money from state pensions. Ultimately they will be more expensive in health care terms because they will now start dying of expensive to treat age related illness.
    The point I’m making is smoking and drinking saves the state money in the long term and is generating revenue. The zealots fail to realize their personal tax bill will increase to compensate for the loss of revenue and other products they use will suddenly become sinful like salt or corn syrup or sugar, tea and coffee as stimulants are other obvious targets.
    What goes around comes around.

  3. Kitler says:

    As a disclaimer I smoke but I’m what they term a social smoker and only smoke while drinking beer. I don’t like smoking any other time. I can go days without a cigarette and it doesn’t bother me. I prefer to eat at restaurants where I can taste the food not someone else’s smoke.

  4. Dr. Dave says:


    Just imagine what would happen if the US government decided to outlaw tobacco tomorrow. What do you think is more likely? Do you think all smokers would immediately abandon the habit or do you think a huge black market would be created overnight? The smart money is on a black market. Farmerbraun would be growing tobacco under grow lights in the basement of his New Zealand estate to be smuggled into other countries. Ozboy is correct in observing that governments are more addicted to tobacco tax revenues than smokers are to nicotine. But as long as there exists a demand, a supply will find its way to market. Hell, marijuana is illegal yet this does little to prevent people from smoking it. A freedom loving society would leave these people alone to make their own choices – self-destructive or not.

  5. Luton Ian says:

    Completely OT
    I took my pans for their first outing of the season yesterday, the nettles are knee high already.

    The stream drains the margin of Devonian granite intruded into Mn rich psamitic shists (corticule shists), which occur in od patches along the full 100km or so length of the granites. The stream bed had several metre plus size boulders of vein quartz, so very hopeful.

    I thought I’d found a small pebble of galena or molybdenite in the pan – the right sort of blue grey brilliant metallic lustre.

    I checked it out in bright sunlight today, it has ruby red internal reflections! allong with very well developed sectile cleavage, and a small euhedral quartz inclusion.

    There is sphalerite in the general area (where is there not?), but the lustre of this is far too silvery and metallic, and Irish sphal tends to be more “Honey Blende” in appearance.

    I have seen cinnabar with similar lustre and internal reflections (from Gortdrum, over in County Tipperary), also the various “ruby silvers” (pyragyrite and friends, in speci collections).

    Both are well outside my experience. Have you any experience in identifying them?

    Other metallic stuff in there included pyrite (there is stannite elsewhere on these granites, but I wouldn’t expect to see it) and what looks like cassiterite, which I was hoping for. No really heavy yellow stuff that time, maybe next time?

    As far as identifying the major metal sulphides in crystal form, yeah we were drilled pretty well in that. Though I ended up specialising in soft rock, coal in particular. I’m sure there are some great pictorial sites out there, or even Wiki seems to have some good info (for a change).

    If you’re ever Down Under in the eastern half, visit Inverell in Northern NSW. I’ve still got some wonderful blue and golden sapphires and one ruby I found there as a kid – Oz

  6. Kitler says:

    Dr Dave as we know any kind of prohibition of any substance that is used to change a persons mood tobacco included never ultimately works and creates more problems than it solves.
    However state governments have slowly killed the Golden Goose that lays the tax egg and now smoking is down to 20% and now we have lots and lots of really cranky assholes running around. Smoking does calm people down and relaxes them and decreases stress.
    Like I say I can take or leave it. In the UK smuggling of alcohol and tobacco is rife thanks to high taxation and pubs everywhere are being closed down because of the smoking ban. Oddly enough people who don’t smoke didn’t drink either and did not suddenly turn up to drink in pubs in droves.
    So Governments everywhere are now looking at other things to tax such as fast food which ends up being a regressive tax as it affects the poor the most. Do they honestly think the poor will suddenly adopt an organic foods diet I think not, or governments are going to have to increase food stamps to cover the extra cost.

  7. Dr. Dave says:


    Of course you are right. Just as an aside, I think none the less of you for smoking. That’s your choice. If you were to be a guest in my home you would be welcome to smoke. I’m not really bothered by it except when I’m eating. You mentioned fast food and that triggered a memory. When I was a kid we had a franchise called H. Salt Fish and Chips and they offered “authentic” British fish & chips. Now…I have no idea how “authentic” their fare actually was, but it was freakin’ delicious. They were North Atlantic whitefish filets that were battered and deep fried and served with malt vinegar. This was a real treat on Sundays after church when I was a kid. I always imagined fish & chips as British fast food. It was SO much tastier than a damn burger and fries. But because it tastes so good you just have to know it can’t be good for you.

    We have “sin taxes” on alcohol and tobacco. We have “gas guzzler” taxes on sports cars that don’t get the PC approved number of MPG. Now they’re eying fast food and sugared sodas as a source of tax revenue. The rationale is always sold as “taxing what isn’t good for you” but this is a crock They want to tax what they KNOW will sell. It is the tax revenue they lust after, not public safety.

  8. meltemian says:

    Καλο Πασχα everyone. Happy Easter.
    Sorry I haven’t been around much lately – visitors!!
    I gave up smoking sometime around 1970 when my children started begging me to stop, “Mummy – you’ll die!” etc. I have to admit I didn’t find it too difficult but Mr. M gave up much more recently after his heart attack and found it hard.
    My sister still smokes like a chimney though and I’m glad to discover that passive smoking is far less dangerous than the kill-joys would have you believe. I come away from visits resembling a smoked haddock!
    Dr. Dave you’re right, all the lost revenue from taxing cigarettes is part of the reason that the government is searching wider and wider for other sources of income.
    Luton Ian – I used to have a small gold nugget I found when investigating an ancient Welsh gold-mine, in the days when you could still do it before they blocked them all off. I didn’t believe it was real gold and thought it was probably iron-pyrites ‘Fools Gold’, but it was real and I was so chuffed. I seem to have lost it somewhere in moving though. I’d love to be able to recognise all the different ores.
    Got to go now and do some more entertaining – lamb tonight, all the locals are getting their charcoal spit-roasts going this morning.

    G’day Mel and Happy Easter to you too – Oz

  9. Kitler says:

    Dr Dave authentic British fish’n’chips is made with named Fish like Cod. It should be deep fried in lard. It is THE original fast food. It was made to serve in a hurry shipyard workers on their short 30 minute lunch break. As those people worked hard and worked off the calories no harm was done.
    Most Cod in the USA is sourced from China and I can assure you it’s not Cod but some weird deep sea fish. I cook fish’n’chips for me and the missus at home the vinegar helps break down the fats.

  10. Kitler says:

    meltemian myself and Luton Ian visited a reopened Gold mine in Dollglellau in the 1980’s at college, this mine will be used for a Royal wedding ring. When you have seen Gold in the vein you will never mistake it for iron pyrites, a different luster.
    There is still lots of gold to be had there but the will is weak to mine it.

  11. Dr. Dave says:


    I suspect the fish prepared by H. Salt Fish & Chips was indeed, cod. My father was convinced of it. I’ve eaten cod all my life but usually broiled or grilled (sometimes baked). This fish to which I refer was definitely not haddock or some other “fish stick” stock. Though they never named it, I would say it was close to fresh caught grouper. Seeing as grouper is a more tropical fish, I imagine it was cod. Fresh cod (or any seafood) is hard to come by where I live now (high in the mountains of the great southwest). I grew up on freshwater fish – perch, bass, smelt, trout, bluegill, walleye, etc. Real seafood like gulf shrimp or Alaskan king crab was a rare treat. Now I miss the fish I grew up eating. If you’ve never had pan fried lake perch or (especially) walleye you haven’t lived. Out here I’m limited to mountain stream trout which are extremely tasty. But you tend to cook them over a BBQ grill, campfire or smoke them. Ahhh…fresh smoked trout with a cracked peppercorn dijon mustard dip…heavenly. But I miss the battered and deep fried filets of firm, white fish with malt vinegar. Maybe you move out here and open a restaurant.

  12. Kitler says:

    Dr Dave as for running a Restaurant it’s hard work and long hours and I’m not sure landlubbers would appreciate it and you would have to make acceptable to local pallets so the point would be lost.

  13. Dr. Dave says:

    A great article from a great conservative economist (sounds very Libertarian in tone):


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