Friday, July 22, 2011

Smokers: at liberty, but not free

I've a piece in today's Canberra Times, 'Smokers: 'liberated', but not free'.

I'm arguing that some smokers' insistence on freedom is a narrow one: there's nothing 'free' about being driven by cravings, and the companies that encourage and exploit them.  A sample:
It is now well-documented that the nicotine in cigarettes is addictive. Many cigarettes also contain chemicals such as ammonia, which enhances nicotine delivery. And for generations, cigarettes were deliberately targeted to minors, who would get the habit young. Addicted consumers are loyal consumers. 
In short, there is nothing ''free'' about tobacco - it is harvested, processed, packaged and advertised to be addictive. That is the business. Which is why smoking is a poor choice for emancipation. No one is denying the rights of Australians over their own bodies. No one will stop smokers from harming themselves, if they can keep their smoke away from others. But being enslaved to tobacco companies is a dubious freedom. Yes, Australia, you are at liberty to smoke - but you're less free when you do.


danielsmith said...

I agree with the points you made in the article. Another angle where I'm interested on your opinion is on the economic side of various vices: Health care premiums, hospital places, doctors' time and even the gruesomely fungible asset of donor organs are affected by the freedom of people to (over) indulge in known dangerous habits. I don't see how anyone can claim their smoking habit is affecting only themselves when there's a likelihood of a cost to the wider society at a later time. It's a hard argument to put forward though, because for many it sits in easy sight of a slippery slope heading inexorably towards fun police, nanny state etc.

I agree that it's a selfish definition of "freedom" to not think further afield that oneself and one's immediate activities, or to only think that the lack of gubb'mint restrictions defines freedom in its entirety.

Damon Young said...

Many of these bad health choices occur in clusters of geography, class, ethnicity. Freedom is obviously circumscribed by inherited circumstances.

Until governments do the work to help the systematically underprivileged, we're all going to keep paying for their knackered health - and I believe we should.

I'm not saying these smokers - or drug-users or crappy diet eaters - aren't responsible. But clearly some folks have less of a chance to put things right early on, and they're often in the same suburbs, with the same education levels.

Frances said...

Hello Daniel Smith.
I am 69 years old. Two and three years ago I had several small sunspots removed in a few seconds of cold blasts in the surgery. Previously, I had an injection or so to go to Bali circa 1994.
Prior to that, I had medical attention when I gave birth in 1974 and 1978.
Apart from these 5 instances I have had NO need for medical expenses or intervention or medication in the last 50 years. Don't call on me for a panadol: none at my place - why should there be?
I hope that you can claim a similar record of health and self reliance, although I suspect that unlike me you don't smoke cigarettes.
The government - here and elsewhere - tells you convenient lies. Smoking cigarettes is bad, bad, and dangerous: no doubt about it. But what is killing people now so early, so sadly, is something else entirely, and nothing to do with cigarettes...that is just a diversion so that you can vent your ire and not look critically at all else.