Who really is the ‘bad guy’ here?

The issue of changing tobacco product advertising is not the real issue. Tobacco companies are ‘smart’; they know how to get people hooked on the ‘cancer sticks’ they make. What they do, however, is unethical and immoral. They aren’t alone in this; there are other companies like them. The question is what to do about ‘big tobacco’ and their cancer causing products?

The issue is not really about changing the advertising on tobacco products, it is about the harm they do. However, dealing with the issue of harm is challenging, not just for tobacco companies, but for ordinary people and the government.

To consume tobacco products is a ‘right’ of the people, but a contentious ‘right’. To make cancer causing products, however, is also a ‘right’. And that is part of the problem. Why are they allowed to make cancer causing products? One reason is because they’ve been doing for a long time without acknowledging the harm their products cause. If tobacco products cause cancer, why doesn’t the government ban it? The reason why the government doesn’t ban tobacco products is twofold: 1) because it earns taxes from it, and 2) because the people want it. This last point is a contentious issue because while the government allows tobacco products it doesn’t allow others e.g. marijuana.

The first issue, taxes, is logical and easy to deal with. However, the demand for the product isn’t easy to deal with. For one, it’s linked to the system of governance supported by Australians: Democracy. In a ‘democracy’, governments rely on the people to gain power, and remain in power. What if the majority of voters are tobacco consumers? If they were, there may not be the present problem. Hypothetically speaking, of course. The government might be voted out in the next election if it introduced harsher laws than the new tobacco product advertising policy it is introducing.

Given that Australians, the vast majority at least, claim to subscribe to Democracy as a good system of governance to live by, they are more than ‘democrats’. They might be democrats when it comes to politics, but they are ‘libertarians’ when it comes to their freedoms. And as libertarians, they believe strongly in freedom of thought and freedom of speech, but as a logical extension of this, the freedom to do whatever they want. But some do not adhere strongly to this other aspect of libertarianism: do no harm. Thus they fail to take responsibility for their freedoms. Or, at least, fail to take responsibility for the consequences of doing whatever the hell they want.

It is a psychological issue why people consume tobacco products, aware that they cause cancer. What they do is exercise their ‘right’ to consume tobacco products. The problem with exercising this ‘right’ is its consequences. They will get cancer and maybe cause it in someone who doesn’t smoke (from passive smoking). When they get cancer (or cause it in someone else) they then want someone to cure them, or nurse them until dead. Who pays for nursing them, because there isn’t a cure? Do smokers plan for that? Nope. They don’t plan for it, put aside money for it. What they do is ask the government to pay for it. Nursing those who contract cancer from smoking is both a moral and a political quandary. To do or not to do, is the question.

For the companies that make ‘cancer sticks’, it’s an ethical and a moral issue. Why do they think it is a good thing to produce something that causes cancer? Why do they persist in doing it? One reason is because they can. Another is because there isn’t strong opposition to it. While the ‘anti-smoking’ lobby has made history with recent achievements, there is still a strong ‘pro-smoking’ lobby. There certainly isn’t strong government opposition to smoking, and that is ‘big tobacco’s’ escape clause. If the government doesn’t try to prevent them from doing it, then they’ll keep doing it until there is strong government opposition.

The Australian government is faced with a political and moral quandary. To prevent ‘big tobacco’ from making ‘cancer sticks’ or let the people decide for themselves to consume tobacco products? The latter point is obvious in the recent ‘anti-nanny’ sentiment of the pro-smoking lobby that adults can decide for themselves to do or not to do. The issue isn’t whether they can decide for themselves or not, the issue is, as a society and as a nation, do we want people to consume a known cancer causing product?  The ‘anti-nanny’ lobby isn’t dealing with this issue, it is avoiding it. It is making the issue a ‘rights’ issue. What they are really saying is that they have a ‘right’ to consume tobacco products, despite the fact that they cause cancer. They are avoiding the issue of cancer, and who pays for nursing them and the people who incidentally get cancer from them exercising their ‘right’ to smoke. Who pays for nursing them in their pain and suffering until they’re dead?

It is a complicated issue. Do we, as a society and as a nation, respect the ‘rights’ of ‘big tobacco’ to make a cancer causing product because some people want to exercise their ‘right’ to consume it, or do we get moralistic and put a stop to it, as a society and as a nation? Are the consequences of exercising the ‘right’ to say no to it worth the effort? As a society and as a nation, do we really want to live in a polluted country? Do we run the risk of being accused of being, in the eyes of the pro-smoking lobby, at least, a bunch of ‘fascists’ out to spoil their fun? But the consequences of smoking aren’t fun, they’re horrific. I can see parallels in this issue and the global warming/climate change issue.

People want their freedoms, but they don’t want to take responsibility for the consequences of enjoying their freedoms. I say to hell with freedom in Australia if it means getting cancer from some self-fish asshole who wants to exercise his ‘right’ to pollute his body and the non-smoker walking behind him on the street or in any public space. My ‘right’ to fresh air and a healthy lifestyle trumps the ‘right’ of the smoker to pollute his and his neighbours’ body, and that’s final. If the pro-smoking lobby wants to argue that, I’m happy to debate it anytime in the court of public opinion.

PS I’m not a fascist; I’m anti-smoking in public spaces

PSS I’m pro-fresh air


Author: Robert M. Easterbrook

I'm one of those tall thin guys who looks around a lot and keeps to himself. I've recently completed a PhD, thinking it might be useful for something. I'm also a dreamer, because dreaming is far more interesting than the mundane.

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