Thursday, October 27, 2005

GOVERNMENT BANS SMOKING IN PRIVATE PLACES

Well, I must be getting old, because, the country os going to hell in a hand-basket! We have the new anti-anything-but-government-terrorism laws. We have paranoia about bird flu'. Yes, paranoia - a disease that effects birds, is almost incomunicable to humans and has only been contracted by people who live in constant proximity to birds and has only killed 60 people despite millions of cases of it, might get to the UK, might transform to a form that can be passed from humans to humans, and might cause an epidemic - meanwhile I am sure that health campaigners are very upset that new government schemes paying them will be introduced, and British poultry farmers are just bawling their eyes out that a proposed ban on imported poultry will eliminate competition from Europe against them!

But now the nannies in the nanny state are banning smoking in private places. Yes PRIVATE places. Pubs are not "public" places, they are private buildings, owned by businesses, who open them up so that the public can come in and buy drinks. It is bad enough that the state demands that you buy a licensefrom them to open up your own house in order to allow members of the public to give their own money in exchange for your own drink. But now the government is saying that if you choose to encourage people to give you their money in exchange for food, then you won't be allowed to let them smoke in your house.

The arguments are crazy and stupid. First off, I accept passive smoking can cause cancer. I am not versed on the science, but denying it is not relevant to my case. Passive smoking can cause cancer, and so can normal smoking. That bearded moron in the executive committee of the ruling class, Frank Dobson (can everybody sense that I feel strongly on this?!) said on the news yesterday, words close to "Blair and Bush want to go running around the world looking for weapons of mass destruction? Why don't they aim at tobacco, which kills fifty percent of all those who smoke it." Idiot! Smokers all, each and every one, voluntarily chose to take up smoking. Each and every one of them thought that doing so was worth any risk attached. Now, in what way is being killed by a chemical weapon, dirty bomb, or other such thing analogous? It isn't.

OK, so people may dispute my claim that smokers do what they do voluntarily. "They are addicted," they say. Yes, they are. And they chose to risk addiction. Come on! Point me out the one person in the world that did not know that nicotene in cigarettes may be addictive! Bull! Everybody knows it, everybody who took up smoking knew that they were risky addiction, cancer, and heart disease, and they did it anyway. They did so because they wanted to enoughto make doing so worth it.

The classical utilitarian defense for a free market is analogous here. On a free market, it is argued (that is, one in which property is secure from theft and fraud), all interactions must be pareto improvements. The out come of any interaction must be to maximise utitlity. If Billy buys an orange, then we can fairly safely assume that it is because oranges are more valuable to him than his money is. If Harry sells him an orange, then we can assume that it is because Harry value's getting Billy's money more than he values keeping the orange. Each party, then, gets something more valuable to them than they thing they lose - and thus, for each, there is an improvement in terms of their utility, which is the satisfaction of their preferences. If the transaction is prohibited, then we are prohibiting an increase in utility, and we are making both parties worse off than they otherwise would be.

The same goes for smoking. If Billy takes up smoking, then it must be because he values doing so more than he values not doing so.

But here the complaints come in, and they are analogous to claims of market failure. Firstly, that there is a case of imperfect information: Billy doesn't know what his decision involves. Yeah, right! As I said, is there anybody in the entire country that doesn't know that smoking is a) addictive, and b) bad for you? No. So, no imperfect information - Billy knows exactly what he is doing.

Secondly, there are externalities attached to the decision. Sure, if all the costs of smoking are borne by Billy, and yet he smokes, we have to conclude that it is better, on utilitarian grounds, to let him smoke than to not do so. But all the costs are not brone by Billy. They are externalised in two ways. Firstly by Passive smoking, and secondly, through the cost of treating Billy on the NHS when he gets ill.

OK, so lets take the first: That pollution from the cigarettes Billy smokes gets into other people's lungs, constituting a cost he doesn't have to factor in when calculating whether or not to take up smoking. Well, one thing we should remember is that there maybe even stricter controls on smokers to protect against passive smoking under a libertarian system than under a state. Lungs are private property, namely the property of the person in whom's chest they reside. Dumping second hand smoke on somebody else's lungs, then, is a tort, and the smoker can be sued.

However, this assumes that the "victim" of passive smoking doesn't knowingly consent to it. The argument behind banning smoking in pubs in order to protect victims of passive smoking is that they do not voluntarily allow smoke into their lungs, unlike the normal smoker. But is this true? Nobody involuntarily goes into a pub. They only way a victim of passive smoking could claim that they were an involuntary victim was if they could claim that they didn't know that smoking was going on in the pubs.

So who in the entire country is surprised when they go into a pub and see smokers there? Who is unaware that smoking goes in pubs? What, are you stupid?!!! Surely everybody knows that smoking goes in pubs! So nobody can claim that they did not know when they went through the door that they might be entiring a smokey environment. And yet they choose to go in. Therefore they choose to go into a smokey environment. They were not threatened in anyway in order to get them to go in. They did so, presumably, because they preferred going in to not going in.

So, smoking in pubs does not constitute an externality problem. Moreover, if a sizeable proportion of the pub-going market was opposed to smoking in pubs, then a proportion of the industry would form non-smoking pubs in response. (Except where pubs are sheltered from competition, and so don't have to care about pleasing the consumers. This would, of course, be one effect of requiring pubs to have licenses to serve alcohol or limits on time!)

What about the claim that some of the costs of smoking are externalised onto the rest of us via the burden they place on the National Health Service when they get ill? Well, point one - this is not a market failure, it is a government failure. It is a problem with the NHS, which inevitably involves externalising the costs of bad lifestyule choices onto the public. If health care were not paid for out of general taxation this would not be a problem.

The second response is that given the level of taxation on cigarettes, smokers who get ill more than pay for themselves, and doctors and nurses should actually be grateful for the tremendous excess they get left over.

The third response would be to agree. Yes, this is a lifestyle choice who's cost the NHS imposes on all. Likewise, if you choose to become sexually promiscuos you choose a lifestyle that features greater risk of contracting sexual diseases, which will need to be treated, possibly on the NHS. So lets ban sexual promiscuity. Gay men are more likely to catch AIDS than most others, because of a lifestyle choice (No, being gay is not a choice, yes, having gay sex is a choice, therefore being a sexually active gay man is a lifestyle choice). The NHS spends billions on treating AIDS. Why not just ban gay sex?

The point is that the logic of the argument that the lifestyle choice smokers make imposes costs on all of us via the NHS can be applied to all sorts of other lifestyle choices. And if the logic were strong enough to justify a ban in the case of smoking, then it is strong enough to justify a ban of other things. Tenis players impose costs of their activity on the rest of us by forcing tax payers to pay for the treatment of Tenis Elbow on the NHS. Therefore we should ban tenis! See what I mean. But since these are often things we don't want banned, we should reject that logic, and so that case for a ban on smoking.

And lastly - pubs are private property. "It is my damn pub - if I choose to let people smoke here, that is my right. If you don't like it, don't come in!"

3 Comments:

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Anonymous Julius Blumfeld said...

Good piece. My comments are here:

http://www.20six.co.uk/juliusb/archive/2005/11/01/12e6lswkrqx5.htm

2:27 PM  
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