HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Friday, August 17, 2007

Tobacco Regulation

William Saletan has a piece in this week discussing the "Tobacco Jihad."  Although he dislikes smoking and notes that it is an extremely unhealthy habit, he also states that perhaps other "drugs" need to be viewed more cautiously as well,

Likewise, the point of recognizing tobacco as a drug was to regulate it as strictly as comparable drugs, not more so. Five months ago, a report by a British commission found that the financial health costs of alcohol and tobacco were equal. Tobacco was by far the bigger killer, but when the analysis moved beyond self-destruction to harming others, the annual death toll from alcohol-related car accidents exceeded the toll from secondhand smoke in the workplace. Drinking, unlike smoking, played a role in 78 per cent of assaults and 88 per cent of criminal damage. The commission concluded that if legal drugs were classified like illegal ones, alcohol would be judged more serious than tobacco. Instead, British law allows advertising of booze but not cigarettes.

The strangest thing about the current round of smoking bans is its focus on pubs. All over the world, reporters have been interviewing bar patrons about the merits of expelling tobacco. "It means I can drink and not come out [of] the bar stinking like an ash-tray," one guy in Hong Kong told Agence France-Presse after a night of partying. There's nothing more annoying than a stinking cigarette when you're trying to get stinking drunk.

Tobacco myopia isn't just a British problem. In South Korea, a university president has proposed to permit booze but "remove smoking students from our school." In Amsterdam, coffee-shop patrons will soon be allowed to smoke marijuana but not tobacco, despite evidence that two joints cause as much non-cancerous lung damage as five to 12 cigarettes.

I understand that alcohol is also a danger to public health, however, I don't think that regulation of alcohol means that we should cut back on our regulation of tobacco.   I am sure that there are healthy vices - perhaps dog walking - that people could take up without the associated downsides of tobacco and alcohol.

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