“Tobacco is more dangerous than many highly illegal drugs. ” This was the startling finding published by The Lancet, a major British medical journal last March 2007. Tobacco was ranked ninth most harmful drug while Ecstasy placed last in the list of twenty most harmful drugs. [qtd in USA Today March 23, 2007]. Another study made by the US Surgeon general reported that cigarette smoking can be ‘conclusively linked to diseases such as leukemia, cataracts, pneumonia and cancers of the cervix, kidney, pancreas and stomach.
Furthermore according to this report: Smoking kills an estimated 440,000 Americans each year. On average, men who smoke cut their lives short by 13. 2 years, and female smokers lose 14. 5 years. The economic toll exceeds $157 billion each year in the United States—$75 billion in direct medical costs and $82 billion in lost productivity. [Whitehead, http://www. rutherford. org/articles_db/commentary. asp? record_id=282]. In light of these facts, it is logical to think that the sale and use of tobacco must be stopped.
However, the most effective way to stop an activity does not necessitate the use of government police power to make it illegal which is the only recourse advocated by others. Our nation’s history as exemplified in the prohibition of alcohol; our own personal experiences and insight to human behavior and the current losing state of the fight against already illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroine and etc. already tells us that tobacco at this time should not and cannot be made illegal.
Should not our commonsense tell us that ban instead of regulation of the manufacture and sales of a dangerous product is proven to be an ineffective way of fighting the problem? Do we ban driving cars which may lead to death and is proven to cause environmental harm? No, we only regulate the manufacture and operation of cars. There is general consensus that tobacco is harmful to our health, however there is no consensus on whether or not banning tobacco is not a violation of our personal freedom. There is no general acceptance that government should be the one to make us adults stop buying tobacco.
There is no wide social acceptance that manufacture, sale and use of tobacco constitute crime. Most people do not equate it to murder or manslaughter even if it leads to death. This makes it more difficult for this activity to be outlawed. In addition, would our overburdened police force be motivated to pursue illegal smokers? Does any country or state have enough financial resources or police capability to prosecute and imprison all people caught smoking tobacco? Will government be able to control the inescapable rise of tobacco smugglers and illegal dealers?
As we can gauge from the current fight against drugs already illegally classified; the state does not have the capability. Aside from this, such law cannot be enforced effectively because it does not have the mandate of its constituents. The latter is a more critical factor for the ban to succeed. America is a very litigious society. There are even arguments presented to state that banning tobacco is constitutional. But we have to realize that there are other ways of solving this problem rather than simply making it illegal.
Government can continue to support health advocacy against tobacco by levying taxes, prohibiting sales to minors and advertisements and sponsoring public information programs against the use of tobacco. However, I believe at present, the fight against tobacco can be only effectively fought first within our households. Parents if they do not want their children to smoke should not smoke themselves. There should be no tolerance for smoking within the homes. Our country is obsessed with youth and beauty.
It would be more effective if concerned civic groups and citizens who want to make tobacco illegal would focus their resources on public programs and advertisement that will make us perceive how smoking makes us look ‘old and ugly’. Terrify smokers with clever ads on the consequences of smoking. You can even increase the VAT for dental services to clean nicotine tar coated teeth. Our society is obsessed with being famous and popular; wake them up by making society perceive that smokers are generally thought of as ‘dirty, uncool and dumb’.
Since America has a culture or worshipping celebrities, we can utilize celebrities who are generally fitness and health buffs to foster this perception. You can even use young stars like Miley Cyrus to battle against teen smoking. Instead of wasting money lobbying government officials in Washington and directly fighting the pro-tobacco lobbyist, why not hire genius marketing and communications consultants who can change the perception and attitude of our present society against tobacco? Why not make tobacco smoking as repugnant as child abuse and government corruption.
If the demand goes down, the supply will also go down. Minimal demand and low profitability will make it impossible for any illegal or smuggling activity associated with tobacco to thrive. Furthermore, the continued existence of unprotected sex in this day and age of AIDS makes us recognize the fact that there would always be a section of people which despite the illegality of a product or its known harm would still choose to use this product. Is it the duty of government to protect these people from themselves?
It is an illusion to think that government can be our own personal savior. Should government bureaus be created to put these people in hospitals and get them into straight- jackets? Commonsense instead of public law can already tell us that the answer is no. Education as a long-term solution for these problems and other crimes in our society cannot be overemphasized. Smoking like sex is a personal choice. We make better choices when we know and understand better. We make better choices when we are responsible and we have self-discipline.
Where do we learn all these? We do not learn these by consulting expensive lawyers or going to courts. We learn best from our parents, our teachers, our friends and neighbors. Therefore, if we want to stop the use and sale of tobacco, as of today, we cannot give the government this responsibility. We have to take this responsibility for ourselves, our families and our neighborhood. We must not be discouraged and think that a tobacco free society is impossible. Society’s view on taking legal action against tobacco is changing for the better.
New surveys have indicated the trend that the idea that tobacco is criminal and should be illegal is becoming more socially acceptable. “According to a recent Zogby poll, 45% of those surveyed supported a ban on cigarettes within the next 5-10 years. Among respondents aged 18-29, the figure was 57% [Head, http://civilliberty. about. com/od/drugpolicy/i/cigarettes_ban. htm]. Therefore, when most of us make it a choice to make tobacco illegal; personal choice and freedom is in harmony with the creation of law against tobacco which results in a more effective and enforceable law.