Does hiding cigarettes do any good?

Open display of cigarettes would be banned by Bloomberg’s proposal. Photo: Daniel Ansel Tingcungco, CC some rights reserved

Right on the heels of an attempt to ban sales of large sodas, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is proposing a requirement that stores conceal cigarettes from plain view.

The big-soda ban was struck down just before it was to go into effect, by a State Supreme Court Judge who called it “arbitrary and capricious”. That ruling is being appealed.

One of the factual background lines tossed about in most of the U.S. coverage on the cigarette proposal goes like this: “The ban on displaying cigarettes follows similar laws in Iceland, Canada, England and Ireland”.

Hiding cigarettes from customer sight is something anti-smoking advocates tend to applaud. It’s endorsed by the World Health Organization. Iceland tried it first, back in 2001. But what sort of impact does it have, if any?

Canada’s ban was introduced on a province-by-province basis. Ontario passed a “hide ‘em” measure in 2008. Since the countries mentioned have different forms of socialized medicine one can argue more justification exists for social policies which lower health care costs.

As it happens, I saw the retail display ban go into effect at my local village store, about four years ago. Big surprise: most store owners here resented the cost and bother of installing the panels that hide the smokes.

This is a bit dated, but here’s an information page from a convenience store interest group that discuses “direct economic hardship for C-Stores retailers” if such bans are enacted, because of the cost of changing displays and the possibility that even more customers will simply buy cigarettes illegally. (More about that notion in a moment.)

Retail display bans went ahead in Canada amid much grumbling but very little defiance. The local store I know best made lemonade out of those lemons by selling ad space for local realtors and such over the plain, boring panels.

I could only find one store owner in Nova Scotia who challenged the new rules. According to the Hant Journal, tobacco store owner Bob Gee was charged with failure to fully conceal products in his store and he:

…turned to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to refute the charge, claiming it violates his freedom of expression through advertising, and won the first stage of his constitutional challenge in 2010.

That case is still in court with a ruling anticipated in May of 2013.

I went looking for studies or evidence the retail conceal ban had any effect, but that’s been a bit challenging so far. Some say yes, hiding cigarettes makes a difference in decreasing smoking. Others say, no, it does not, or there is no causal evidence, just various factors that may over-lap.

This 2012 article from the Guardian discusses the ban in England and the debate about evidence in the case of Canada. The article quotes Prof David Hammond from the University of Waterloo in Ontario:

“I can tell you that smoking prevalence was lower among Canadian youth after display bans were implemented,” he said.

“In addition, the number of cigarettes per day reported by both youth and adult smokers was significantly lower after display bans were implemented. These differences remained significant after statistically adjusting for changes in cigarette price, which are strongly associated with smoking behaviour.”

I thought the best summary of anti-conceal arguments in a single article was made by Patrick Basham in the Daily Caller:

One problem with display bans is that they undermine two consumer beliefs that are key to a legal tobacco market: the belief that tobacco is a legal, regulated product and the belief that consuming tobacco from the illicit market is a crime. In jurisdictions where tobacco must be hidden under the counter, the distinction between legal and illegal retailers is blurred, so consumers are more likely to go to illegal, untaxed retailers for their tobacco needs.

The Canadian Convenience store site I mentioned above says that 22% of cigarettes consumed in Canada come from the smuggled/illegal supply chain. If those sales climb, that would result in more revenue lost to store owners and taxes lost to the government. Health advocates can say this is not about sales or tax revenue, this is about people’s lives. And yet the government is happily taking a cut of those sales by way of heavy taxes on this still-legal product.

Basham’s objectivity on this topic has been slammed by those who say he’s biased and has ties to the tobacco industry. But even if he has taken sides, some of the arguments he raises are ones that concealment supporters will have to rebut.

For the anti-smoking advocate, all smoking is a net negative. So discouraging the habit is pretty much a good thing, period.

But even looking for net effect doesn’t answer the whole question. After all, there is ample evidence that many legal products can harm health. For some, “can harm health” is enough justification to intervene. For a different crowd, “free choice” and “personal responsibility” matter more than empowering the state to be everyone’s nanny.

I don’t know. This tends to get personal in the end. On the one hand, I’ve never smoked, I drink very little soda and I am virtually a teetotaler. That makes some of these debates purely theoretical for me.

On the other hand, I eat an inordinate amount of chocolate and I suspect it’s only a matter of time before some do-gooder thinks society needs to do an intervention on my behalf in the sweets department. At a certain point, questions of personal liberty do come into this picture.

There’s a famous (and deadly serious) quote from Martin Niemöller about “when the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist…” You know how it ends: “When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.”

It might feel good to get on the Bloomberg team when the Arugula Agents are locking up Big Gulps and Twinkies. But what if – someday – the suppression effort targets your favorite indulgence? (Don’t assume this is cut and dried. There is an adamant school of thought, for example, that says cow’s milk is unsuitable for human consumption.)

Sometimes I think if cigarettes really are that bad, just ban them already. Except we’ve all seen how many problems that causes. Prohibition is largely considered a failure.

Many say education is the answer. And it’s certainly important. Yet, what if 30% of the population pays attention and makes good choices but 70% chooses to eat mostly “junk” food, and pays a price in negative health? Much as I lean toward personal freedom, the costs of poor choices – freely made – might bankrupt us all.

Do you think proof something harms health is enough reason to regulate (or prohibit) legal items we eat, drink or smoke?

Or would you rather make those decisions yourself – regardless of possible harm or cost?

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60 Comments on “Does hiding cigarettes do any good?”

  1. Thee Original Larry says:

    People seem not to realize that continued government incursions into issues of personal freedom will eventually result in the destruction of a free society. Yes, prohibitions against cigarettes, sugary drinks, etc., are “common sense” measures few will argue with, but they will inevitably progress to restrictions that many find intolerable. Of course, if you believe that most people are too stupid to run their own lives you’ll agree with the concept of legislating everything. History is replete with examples of totalitarian movements that started out with “good ideas” but resulted in the destruction of nations.

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  2. Walker says:

    Larry, I think it would be fair to say that history is also replete with examples of nations that have enacted “good ideas” that have not progressed to totalitarian nightmares. Not all slopes are equally slippery.

    Think about it. Roosevelt’s Pure Food and Drug Act was passed in 1906 (and if you know anything about the conditions that led to it, you might not be so quick to dismiss consumer protections as something needed only by the stupid.) Where can you find a totalitarian regime that took more than a hundred years to slide into horror? Maybe it is just possible to enact reasonable consumer protection laws that don’t lead straight to gulags.

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  3. Marlo Stanfield says:

    There’s a big difference between consumer protections like the Pure Food and Drug Act, and what governments are trying to do with soda bans, making smoking as difficult as they can, etc. The first is telling businesses they have to adhere to certain basic safety standards in producing their products, like not letting human fingers get into the sausage. The second is trying to change individuals’ behavior for the ostensible good of society. The first is protecting people from something they can’t really control themselves. The second is protecting them from themselves.

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  4. Walker says:

    “trying to change individuals’ behavior for the ostensible good of society. The first is protecting people from something they can’t really control themselves. The second is protecting them from themselves.”

    Well one of the things we really can’t control ourselves is the health care cost consequences of the dietary choices of others. And let’s not pretend that we’ve come all that far from the days when doctors were featured in cigarette ads claiming that they were good for the digestion. There are tons of food labels out there claiming that products are “natural” or otherwise healthful. And have you noticed a new ingredient showing up is “evaporated cane juice”? Incredible! (Hint: that’s what sugar is.)

    I’m not sure how I feel about Bloomberg’s rules, but the idea of not keeping the cigarettes in plain sight directly behind the cash register seems reasonable to me. It’s hard enough to quit without the packs being right in your face.

    So if you’re opposed to laws protecting people from themselves, does that mean you’re in favor of legalizing heroin? Opposed to seat belt laws?

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  5. Pete Klein says:

    This is silly. An equally silly idea would require gun dealers to hide all the guns from view.
    Or how about hiding all the beer, wine and whiskey?
    Oh no! I shouldn’t have said that. Someone will think these would be great ideas.

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  6. Marlo Stanfield says:

    There are always going to be health-care costs associated with people’s behavior, how far do you want to go in controlling for them? With smoking in particular, a lot of people who smoke die sooner, so they don’t collect Social Security, and they don’t burden the health-care system as long as people who live into their 80s do. With Social Security being such a growing percentage of the federal budget, do smokers actually cost society more?

    I am opposed to seat-belt laws. I’m not sure how I feel about heroin being illegal. From a libertarian point of view maybe it bothers me, but I don’t think you can compare the destructive effect of a mind-altering substance on society, on the children of addicts and the neighborhoods they live in, to cigarettes or fatty foods. There are better reasons to regulate that.

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  7. Walker says:

    Marlo, rising health care costs make pretty much everyone’s short list of major problems facing the nation today. And if you think it’s not costing you money, you’ve got your head in the sand– take a look at the mammoth chairs, gurneys, hospital beds they’re putting in hospitals and doctors offices these days. And those rising health insurance premiums have a lot to do with the nation’s obesity epidemic. Overweight folk face a lifetime of escalating health problems, unlike lung cancer patient’s fairly quick trip into the light. And speaking of the effects on children, how many overweight parents have overweight children? Childhood obesity and diabetes are through the roof. And it’s all costing you money.

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  8. JDM says:

    Brian: In my opinion, you are looking at this thoughtfully, and from many angles.

    Here’s another perspective. State and Federal revenue from tobacco.

    States get billions of dollars per year from taxing tobacco products.

    The Federal government gets tens-of-billions annually from law suit settlements.

    The tax revenue on tobacco products, if you follow the demographic of tobacco users, is largely lower income earners.

    What a great way to get around the “tax the rich” pitch. “I support taxing the rich”. (when really, one supports allowing tobacco products to be taxed to the hilt to garnish the low earner’s wages).

    Look at how many man-hours of State-trooper’s time is spent on tax evasion of tobacco products.

    The State is looking out for its best interests.

    They want them tax dollars, low income earners, so watch out!

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  9. Pete Klein says:

    If the state and federal government loves taxing cigarettes, they should legalize all drugs and tax them too.
    Next stop, let’s tax sex.
    No, not just prostitution but all sex.

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  10. dave says:

    “People seem not to realize that continued government incursions into issues of personal freedom will eventually result in the destruction of a free society.”

    Personal freedom is not “personal” when it affects others

    I do not smoke, I do not drink big gulps… my health care costs are under control because of it. Yet I pay an absurd amount for health care costs because of those people who do those things.

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  11. dave says:

    I meant to say, “yet I pay an absurd amount for health care INSURANCE because of those people”

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  12. Marlo Stanfield says:

    Maybe I should’ve worded it better, I recognize that obesity is a big health problem, and I think there are things that can and should be done. I think taking soda and chips out of schools is a good idea. So are using tax credits and small business loans to encourage people to open grocery stores in underserved areas. Where I draw the line is the government telling adults what they can and can’t do and have, which is what I think the ban on sodas larger than 16 ounces was.

    I think a lot of the problem with obesity is education and awareness, not a lack of regulation. It’s not like there’s a secret to not becoming morbidly obese. Watch what you eat and get a bit of exercise sometimes. It’s a matter of getting the message through, and making people understand the severity of the risks if you don’t take action.

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  13. mervel says:

    In general I would say this is over kill. However nicotine is an addictive drug, most people who start smoking and become addicted would like to quite when they are adults, but can’t. The key to the whole thing is stopping kids from starting to smoke in the first place. Very few people take up smoking at age 30 who have never smoked before or even 22 for that matter. Most smokers started in their mid to late teens. Stop the 18 year old from ever starting and you will see smoking rates fall even further. Cigarettes packages if you notice are usually bright colors, they look interesting, so yeah I see nothing wrong with making them be under the counter. It takes away another marketing point for them.

    Things do work on some of these issues. The US by taking a stand against cigg’s by making it uncomfortable and a hassle to smoke and by education has reduced our smoking rates greatly. We are lower than most of Europe for example. Stopping smoking in the work place and stopping smoking at bars and restaurants made a huge difference.

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  14. Walker says:

    “This is silly.”

    Pete, anyone who thinks it’s silly has probably never tried to quit.

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  15. Marlo Stanfield says:

    Back on the topic of the post, I think a ban on displaying cigarettes in stores would be pointless, and we have enough pointless laws and regulations already that we don’t need any more. I smoke now; I’ve tried to quit numerous times, without lasting success. Thinking about the things that have led me to relapse, it’s never, ever been seeing cigarettes behind the counter at the store. It’s hard to say what made me start, since it was a while ago, but I don’t think advertising or seeing cigarettes in the store had anything to do with it, either; it was having friends who smoked, who smoked because their friends, older siblings, parents, etc., smoked. It’s not like people see cigarettes, like the magazines and candy bars by the checkout line, and buy them on a whim and get hooked that way.

    If I thought it would make a difference I might be in favor of it, but I don’t think it would.

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  16. Walker says:

    Well, I quit smoking 16 years ago after smoking for 35 years, and I think it could have helped me, so…

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  17. mervel says:

    I don’t think it will have an impact on already addicted smokers. I do think it may have an impact on younger people who do buy on a whim. It removes ciggs from the public’s eye. It’s like you said Marlo you smoke when your friends do, when it is part of our society, slowly we are removing ciggs from society and our culture. Now smoking is just odd, it is no longer that cool like it was when I started. I smoked from the age of 15 through age 30, I started because for me I thought it was something you did when you grew up and became a man. All of my older cousins smoked, dad of course, uncles etc, so for me it really was also impacted by the marlboro man stuff. I thought it was what cowboys did. So marketing was a big part of that. Then of course I just got addicted and realized that was all stupid and aimed at 15 year old’s and I was now stuck with this habit. Anything that will get young people to not start I think is a good thing.

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  18. oa says:

    Banning ads does help limit youth purchases, smoking (and you don’t even need the studies below; if it didn’t work, why would the tobacco companies spend money on it?):
    http://www.drugfree.org/uncategorized/banning-tobacco-product-displays-may-help-reduce-youth-smoking-study-suggests
    http://www.tobaccopolicycenter.org/documents/CounterArgs%2011.12.pdf

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  19. The Original Larry says:

    Dave,
    I had no idea that you were so……perfect. Where will the legislation aimed at bringing the rest of us up to your standards begin? By banning fast food? Doughnut shops? Red meat? Candy? Coffee? The problem with a collectivist approach is that “standards” are always dictated by people like you, who are convinced they know better than the rest of us.

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  20. Walker says:

    Larry, look around you! If Dave was in charge, you obviously wouldn’t see so many obese people. No, it’s clearly the multi-billion dollar food industry that has been in charge for many many years.

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  21. Pete Klein says:

    The problem causing the cost of health care to rise is the effort to keep everyone alive as long as possible and then complain about the cost of keeping everyone alive as long as possible.
    The flip side of “you get what you pay for” is “you pay for what you get.”
    There was a time when most people didn’t have health insurance. Back in those days, you decided if you could afford to go to a doctor. If you couldn’t afford it but really needed to go, you bit the bullet and went, and worried about the cost later – as did the doctor.
    I at 70 continue to work and smoke. Reluctantly, I see the doctor twice a year. Last time I was in the hospital was in grade school when I had my tonsils out.
    Will I make it to 80? Probably not. Do I care? I would care if I could look and have the strength I had when 21. Since I am not a vampire and have no hope of becoming one, forgetaboutit!

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  22. Walker says:

    You know Larry, if people like Dave were in charge, you’d know whether a food product contained GMOs. Bloomberg is an anomaly. The people who own our legislators, who own them because they paid for their campaigns and got them elected, are the major corporations who manage to get the laws written just the way they want them. It’s been calculated that the return on investment in donations to politicians is 1000%, and it’s us little people who ultimately pay the bill.

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  23. The Original Larry says:

    Give me a break, Walker. Next thing, you’ll tell me that if a person like Dave were in charge all the trains would run on time. What a drab, colorless thing life would be under the domination of sour, negative, self-important “experts” like you and Dave. I’ll take my chances on my own, thank you very much. The “benefits” you gain by trading away your freedom are illusory and worthless.

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  24. Walker says:

    Larry, explain to me how honestly labeling a food product with factual information about whether or not it contains GMOs has anything to do with my freedom.

    You’re on autopilot– you’re not even thinking about what you write, just Regulation Bad, Freedom Good. Gimme a break!

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  25. The Original Larry says:

    As with many other issues, Liberals hide their true intent behind “no brainer” issues. The real question here is whether or not people should cede their personal rights to those who would tell them how to live, including, by now, what to eat and drink. I think that giving up that kind of control over one’s life is always a bad idea.

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  26. Walker says:

    Wow, let’s try that again. I’m talking about food labeling. Nothing at all to do with “ceding personal rights,” and nothing at all to do with being told how to live.

    Please pay attention to the argument at hand, not the one that’s running in your head.

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  27. Ken Hall says:

    Walker says: “return on investment in donations to politicians is 1000%”

    I was listening to a fellow on NCPR last week talking about this very subject and his contention was/is that the return on investment garnered by the obscenely wealthy via donations to a politician of choice was 100 to 1000 times (10,000% to 100,000%) not a mere ten times (1000%). A simple thought experiment easily leads one to conclude he is probably correct e.g., to gain $1Billion would require an outlay of $100Million to your favorite politician at 1000%, pretty extravagant even for Billionaires however a $1 to $10Million outlay to the same politician would be far more in line with Billionaire sensibilities of their worth versus others worth. Less wealthy (but still wealthy) folks simply scale back their donation levels to their comfort zones.

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  28. nelson says:

    Smoking is smoking, no difference weather the cigs are hidden from view. I quit 40 years ago, then a few years ago, i tried smokeless tobacco, lost all my lower teeth, had a bone graft to build up the jaw, had a couple of inplants put in to anchor a new denture and it works better than real teeth and ,look ma, no cavitities.

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  29. nelson says:

    i

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  30. tootightmike says:

    This isn’t an issue of protecting the consumer from themselves. It’s more about protecting the consumer, and in particular, the young consumer from a multi-million dollar ad campaign. The devil himself is what drives marketing, and the young are far too susceptible.

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  31. tootightmike says:

    Smokers do indeed burden the health care and social security systems more than non smokers. The Libertarian solution would be to roll those old smokers out into the parking lot and let nature have it’s way…quick, efficient, and no doubt, God’s will.

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  32. tootightmike says:

    The cost of health care is driven up every time the sugar and tobacco companies start another ad campaign, but he larger issue is the cost of health insurance, which goes up every time an insurance executive builds a new beach house or selects the color of the fourth Cadillac.

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  33. tootightmike says:

    I like how Larry is OK with giving away his freedom of choice to Madison Avenue, but not Michael Bloomberg.

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  34. mervel says:

    Insurance executives, oncologists, dermatologists, Hospital executives, pharmacy executives, pharmacy scientists, tort lawyers, medical device manufacturing execs, the list goes on and on. Everyone is doing well with two exceptions; General practice doctors and nursing aids. The fact is most of the people working in health care in the US make substantially more than in any other developed country, to make things work they will all have to make less.

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  35. mervel says:

    One way they would make less is to stop the artificial barriers put up regulating and holding down the number of doctors allowed in the US. It is very very difficult for Canadian Doctors to come to this country and practice for example, many simply give up trying. This makes sense the more doctors you allow the less the cost will be, certainly we don’t want bad doctors, but I think Canadian doctors for example should be able to transfer with no issues, Canadian medical quality control is just as good as in the US. So why would the AMA fight that….. it is pretty clear why.

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  36. mervel says:

    I think a libertarian solution tootight would be to let people take responsibility for their choices. This is actually what is happening in the car insurance business. You get a DUI, gee your insurance rates are going to go way up, you get a bunch of speeding tickets the same holds, and the inverse holds the other way. So when it comes to health care you would simply allocate the risks in the same way. If you want to smoke your health insurance rates are going to be higher and so forth. We have no health incentives built into our health care system. I think a lot of people would lose 20 pounds if you told them your health insurance would go down by 100 bucks a month if you did .

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  37. The Original Larry says:

    You’re absolutely correct, Mervel. Individual insurance has long recognized health concerns like smoking by charging higher premiums. Group insurance recognizes this in the rates as well. But under Obamacare everyone will get “affordable” insurance regardless of pre-existing conditions or health risk. Everyone’s premiums will rise to accomodate this artificial manipulation. A better idea would be to let insurance companies rate or exclude people individually with the government picking up the slack for the unhealthy or uninsurable. Oh wait! That’s the way it works now. Obamacare is nothing but a tax on healthy people who already have affordable insurance. The sheep have actually bought into the scam that it will help people more than it hurts them.

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  38. Will Doolittle says:

    Lucy,
    That is a wishy-washy post. Everything is degrees. Cigarettes are not chocolate nor soda — they are far worse. Bread can be bad for you, if that’s all you eat. But cigarettes are bad through and through — from the first puff to the last one that kills you. What other legal product, if used as intended, has a great likelihood of killing you? I cannot think of one. The “… then they came for me” cliche can be used to justify opposition to about any societal control.
    We don’t allow 10-year-olds to drink alcohol (“First they came for my toddler’s beer … then they came for me”).
    We don’t let people’s dogs roam the neighborhood (“First they came for my dog’s freedom … )
    We don’t allow people to walk around naked (“First they came with my underwear … )
    It’s silly to equate something so harmful — smoking — with things that are much less harmful — soda, chocolate.
    Restrictions on cigarettes and campaigns against smoking have been very successful in driving down the rate of smoking. Keep it up!

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  39. The Original Larry says:

    Will,
    Your argument might hold water if we could trust the liberal agenda. There are too many examples of creeping, arrogant liberalism for that. You people will never be satisfied until you have complete control of everything.

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  40. Lucy Martin says:

    Will,

    You’re absolutely right. It is a wishy-washy post. That’s because I am wishy-washy on this subject.

    Smoking is pretty much bad news, full stop.

    And yet sometimes the same mind-set that would ban or curtail smoking argues in favor of things like physician assisted suicide and legal abortion. Many of the same people who would curtail smoking cigarettes would decriminalize marijuana. (Why? Because the other guy’s vice is a “bad” vice, but _my_ vice is wholesome and recreational?)

    How can safety and preservation of life and health be the guiding principle for, say, the smoking issue, but for the other issues the principles are privacy and personal choice?

    Are we free agents – and get to chose how to live (and when to end) our lives, or not?

    Sure, I value good health and want smart public policy. But I feel like the right to make choices – even “bad” choices – is important too. Hence the wish-wash tone of my post(s) on these issues.

    (I like the cracks about “toddler’s beer” and “came with my underwear” BTW. Funny!)

    If you have a clear guide for where the line needs to comes down on rules verses freedom, I’m interested in hearing it.

    Tootightmike’s comment is also thought-provoking, about how some are: “OK with giving away .. freedom of choice to Madison Avenue, but not Michael Bloomberg.”

    Would I be happy if the smoking industry ads/marketing was stomped down hard, but individuals could grow their own tobacco and roll their own smokes (or weed) with no government interference?

    I think I’d be fine with that on a personal level. But then you get into the question of should government be that intrusive in the practice of free enterprise.

    Yep, just call me wishy-washy!

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  41. Will Doolittle says:

    But we’re not talking about those other things. You’re mixing a lot of stuff together, and generalizing about types of people in ways that may or may not be true, and are irrelevant. Not every issue of health and privacy and personal choice needs to be solved at once, nor is it useful to lump together smoking and abortion and right to die issues. (And you don’t have a prayer of regulating tobacco if you lump it with such hot-button issues.)
    Smoking is bad news, as you say. Discouraging the sale of tobacco products, particularly to minors, is the right thing to do. No need to confuse the issue with all kinds of other stuff.
    And to equate an antipathy to smoking and a desire to regulate tobacco with a “liberal agenda,” Larry? Are you saying, then, that a conservative agenda includes an embrace of cigarettes? C. Everett Koop would disagree.

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  42. Lucy Martin says:

    I do jump around a lot, but that’s because I see connections between the (seemingly) disparate topics.

    Even though I certainly agree that smoking is a net negative, not everyone who smokes dies young. Some smokers even live to be quite elderly and get to die of other causes. So the “suppress cigarettes because they kill” argument does not hold water in every instance.

    If “smoking impacts society too much in higher health care costs” is the argument, well, so does obesity. So does being young and male (reckless accidents and fights). All kinds of things show up as high risk in actuary tables.

    I grew up when cigarette ads were everywhere and a majority of people smoked. I spent close to 14 years working in restaurants where 2nd hand smoke was a disgusting and unavoidable part of the job. (In that sense, I too was a smoker, though I really did not wish to be one.)

    I am thrilled that fewer people smoke now. I think it’s great that no one lights up on planes or in restaurants anymore. Those changes work for me and feel like a reasonable balance of various interests.

    But the suppression efforts go on and on. Ottawa now bans smoking for (outdoor) public parks, beaches, patios and city property. The fine can be as high as $300.

    Now and then one actually hear proposals to ban smoking in private apartment buildings – because the smell creeps under doors.

    I think I’ve mentioned that I like garlic and cook with it often. If “it smells in a way that offends others” becomes the new enforcement standard, then yes. “They” will come for me (and my toddler’s beer!) someday. And I object.

    Here’s a 2012 article by Anne Merritt that asks if this is taking on witch-hunt qualities:

    “…are anti-smoking crusaders still tackling a health issue? Or has it become a social one? Are these proposed limitations still for the good of the public, or have they taken a punitive angle?”

    I agree that discouraging young people from taking up an addictive habit is tremendously important for their health and for the good of society.

    It very well may be that limiting ads and display space is a reasonable solution toward that goal. That was one of the main questions of the post: does this “work”? Yes or no? If no, why impose it? If yes, is it worth implementing?

    However, it is also my view that how this specific question is regulated does touch on issues that are bigger than a single shift in retail display policy.

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  43. Paul says:

    “You know Larry, if people like Dave were in charge, you’d know whether a food product contained GMOs. ”

    That is a classic example of a ridiculous idea perpetrated by fear mongers who understand very little about science.

    Hiding the cigs may be a good idea but this one isn’t.

    http://reason.com/archives/2013/02/22/the-top-five-lies-about-biotech-crops

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  44. Will Doolittle says:

    I think the conspiracy against liberty is on the side of the cigarette manufacturers. What they do, in trying to hook young people to a deadly habit, far outweighs any “punitive” actions on the anti-smoking side.
    The point is not that some people survive smoking’s ravages to live into old age. Surely you see that. Some people — maybe one in a million — will survive jumping out of a plane, too. Some people will survive having their legs chopped off. The point is that smoking damages the body — severely — and in many cases, kills it. That some people survive does not detract from smoking’s toxicity. And, again, you’re tossing in arguments that make no sense. The state of being young and male is not something society can control. Obesity is a problem, that should be addressed. But it has many causes. Smoking-related deaths have one cause.

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  45. Walker says:

    From your link, Paul:

    “The World Health Organization flatly states, “No effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.”

    To which I would add the word “…yet.”

    Besides I well remember your touting Roundup Ready GMO crops as being wonderful because they reduce the need for pesticides. Ah, yes, for a few years that was true. But not any more:

    Now, biotech industry defenders might counter that the surge in herbicide use is balanced by the other main product offered by the industry: seeds engineered to contain the toxic-to-insects gene found in Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a naturally occurring bacterial pesticide. The pitch is this: Rather having to spray corn and cotton with insecticides, plant our Bt seeds, and your insect problems are taken care of.

    Benbrook found that the Bt trait indeed led to a reduction in insecticide use of 123 million pounds between 1996 and 2011. But that figure is dwarfed by the 527 million pound, GMO-driven increase in herbicide use over the same period. In other words, GMOs have added more than four pounds of herbicides to US farm fields for every pound of insecticide they’ve taken away. Overall, Benbrook found, GMOs have lead to a net increase in pesticide use (meaning herbicides plus insecticides) of 404 million pounds, a 7 percent gain.(How GMOs Unleashed a Pesticide Gusher)

    Besides, Paul, I thought you were a free market kind of guy. Markets require access to information to work well. Put the information out there, and let the people vote with their wallets, right?

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  46. Lucy Martin says:

    OK Will, but the logic of your stance doesn’t only apply to smokers.
    “The point is that smoking damages the body — severely — and in many cases, kills it.”

    How about riding motorcycles? Snowmobiles? Surfers who go after the monster waves? All are choices that can lead to death or serious injury, at a cost to society as a whole. Double ditto for drinking alcohol.

    Going by many comments to this thread, a fair number of In Box readers smoked for years before quitting or still smoke to this day. The habit did not kill them dead. Some may have enjoyed smoking and even felt they chose to smoke using free will.

    Having said that, I think some researchers have said it’s as hard to give up cigarettes as it is to kick a heroin addiction. (Terribly difficult, though not impossible.)

    Despite some of my libertarian comments, I am OK with heroin being illegal based on its danger of addiction.

    Perhaps cigarettes should be a controlled substance too? Or only be available by prescription, with lots of help to get un-hooked.

    Right now, cigarettes remain a legal, taxed product. In my mind, anyway, that detail means sellers and buyers can reasonably expect some degree of fair and equal treatment.

    If cigarettes lose the status of a legal product, that would be a different story. (One with a new set of problems and issues, no less easy to solve.)

    Drunk-driving deaths have but one cause too. Should stores hide all the bottles of beer and booze out of sight? Fine with me. I don’t smoke or drink so I wouldn’t miss any of it.

    But what is the goal? Who gets to set it? And will retail display bans achieve said goals?

    No one needs to agree with what I’ve said. I am genuinely curious about what others think.

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  47. Walker says:

    Well Lucy, if you’d be more comfortable it they were simply outlawed, let’s do it!

    You’re missing a significant difference between smoking and virtually all of the things you want to compare it to. Alcohol, used in moderation, is actually good for your health, and millions of people are clearly able to use it with no serious ill effects. What’s more, except when used by drivers, one person’s alcohol use does not affect the health of others.

    Riding motorcycles is a similar story– they (or can be) an efficient form of basic transportation. And snowmobiles and surfboards can be harmless forms of recreation.

    Cigarettes have essentially no redeeming features– they’re bad for you from first to last, and they’re obnoxious to those around you. Their chief value, aside from making some youth feel “grown up” is that they satisfy a need that they themselves created.

    The best reason not to outlaw them entirely (besides preserving the “freedom” of those who wish to use them (yeah, right!)) is that outlawing them might make them seem even cooler to the young. Keep them legal, but keep them out of sight, with the Sudafed.

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  48. Will Doolittle says:

    The strongest comparison is with alcohol, I think. Alcohol sales are also controlled and taxed, and alcohol consumption is regulated. You cannot in most places walk down the street drinking a bottle of beer, for example, because of local “open container” laws. Alcohol also wreaks havoc, on people’s health, on families, and perhaps most of all, on society in DWI crashes. I also believe that the modern-day crackdown on drunken driving is all to the good, and support even more severe measures. I do not believe prohibition would be smart, at this point, of alcohol or cigarettes. But make it difficult for minors to get them, make the punishments severe for abuse, work to curtail the consequences to innocent victims (secondhand smoke, car crashes) and educate the public about their destructiveness.

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  49. Lucy Martin says:

    Well said, Will!

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  50. Pete Klein says:

    For some, maybe many and apparently including Will, anti-smoking is a new religion.
    A bunch of Carrie Nations is what they are.
    They just know they have staked out the moral high ground.
    They just don’t have the guts to make tobacco illegal, primarily because they want the money from those who continue to smoke and are fearful making tobacco illegal will cause many who aren’t smoking now to take up smoking because it is illegal.
    Making tobacco illegal will also give a boost to crime.

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