Saturday, August 17, 2019

Up In Smoke

As a neither a smoker nor a public-health crusader, I'll admit to not getting it. But reading this article in the BBC about why the United States doesn't use the sort of visually graphic warning labels that are common in Europe, I was left with a question. Given that smoking tobacco is considered the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, with massive economic costs and supposedly no upside at all, why is the argument over whether smokers should have to endure graphic imagery in order to purchase it? I would have presumed that the real push would be for an outright ban.

Part of it, I guess, is that cigarettes and other smoking tobacco is ingrained in society that a ban would be politically unpalatable. Guns and opioid drugs, which result in far fewer deaths on an annual basis produce much more public fear, which advocates can leverage into calls for drastic action.

Which, in the end, makes sense. While there are people who are concerned with the impacts to the health of the public, the general public itself doesn't really fit into that category. What the public tends to be concerned with is its perception of being healthy or unhealthy (or threats to that health). Having a loved one gunned down in a random shooting or keel over from an opioid overdose changes people's perceptions of the risks to themselves and other people that they care about. This allows proposals to ban some or all guns or to clamp down on the distribution of opioid painkillers to be seriously entertained, even if they may or may not have any real chance of going anywhere.

But cigarettes aren't generally frightening. And even disgusting pictures of what happened (which may, or may not be accurate) to previous smokers don't change that. Even if they creep out someone thinking of buying a pack of cigarettes, the public at large isn't terribly concerned with it, all things considered. And so while governments can (and do) seem to go out of their way to make smoking expensive and inconvenient (sometimes comically so), a simple ban seems to be a bridge too far.

No comments: