You Have a Duty to be Healthy?

James K

James is a government policy analyst, and lives in Wellington, New Zealand. His interests including wargaming, computer gaming (especially RPGs and strategy games), Dungeons & Dragons and scepticism. No part of any of his posts or comments should be construed as the position of any part of the New Zealand government, or indeed any agency he may be associated with.

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51 Responses

  1. greginak says:

    Why even use a comparison to Nazi’s if you don’t want to really stir the pot into a froth. Most of the comments are even worse.

    While some of the comments noted that anti-smoking has a long history they also failed to talk about the pro-smoking side. I don’t mean the people who we can do whatever they want with our bodies stuff. I mean the cigarette companies that peddled false research, worked to shout down proof that smoking was dangerous, worked hard at regulatory capture to keep lining their pockets and made their cigs more unhealthy and more addictive. One point would be that how many people would be smoking now if it wasn’t for a concerted effort by tobacco manufacturers to get people addicted. Cig smoking rates are going down, one big reason is that the various health problems with it are much more well known now.

    I’ll also note there was quite a bit of disparagement of the idea of calculating the social costs of smoking. I don’t quite get why that somehow is supposed to suggest we are owned by the state anymore than discussing the social cost of drunk driving, to many regulations or pollution. It is simply one measure that might shed light. I’ll admit to feeling a bit cranky now, but i swear i hear far more opprobrium aimed at “gee, good health is good” people then cig companies or just about anyone else. In this country we fry twinkies and oreos (both of which are perfect just the way they are) just to show how frickin awesome we are.

    For the record i’ll say nobody has any obligation to be healthy. Want to go on the twinkie and corn dog diet, have at it. Its your body. FWIW I’m currently on a brief work trip in a small alaska town. Within a 15 minute walk are three fast food burger places, two pizza joints, and three quickee marts selling every cream filled food, candy, buckets of soda and cigarettes. That is just within walking distance. I hope to go for a run after a long work day tomorrow if the weather doesn’t suck to much and i expect to get a few odd looks from people for doing so.Report

    • James K in reply to greginak says:

      Crampton’s point about measuring costs comes from how social costs are defined in studies that estimate the social costs of smoking. Counting the harms a smoker inflicts on others (like you would with any pollution) is right and proper, but estimates of the costs of smoking often go far further than that, counting the government’s costs of treating smoking-related diseases (but not offsetting the costs against reduced superannuation expenditure), factor in the smoker’s reduced productivity (which only makes sense if you think the government owns your productive capacity) and in some cases they even throw in the purchase price of the cigarettes (which implicitly says that smokers are incapable of making proper decisions, and their preferences should be utterly disregarded).

      As for the Nazi reference, I think Crampton’s point is that the way public health advocates talk about smoking betrays a notion that people’s health is more important than anything else – concluding their ability to pursue their own conception of the good. This idea, is not merely paternalistic, it’s also inherent dismissive of human heterogeneity and autonomy. This attitude is not new, and belongs to ideologies that we’re supposed to have left abandoned in the 20th Century.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to James K says:

        Is that different for smoking? Are there not estimates of the loss of productivity that results from various diseases, from not washing hands, etc. etc.?

        If the objections run that far, fine, but I think the relation to ideologies of the past, dismissive of humam hetero etc. etc. is overwrought. It’s worth figuring out how much various health problems cost us in reduced output, it seems to me. Frankly, come to think of it, if taking note of those numbers is that ideologically fraught, then I’m actually not sure that just measuring GDP isn’t also. Do we want growth? Yes? Isn’t that dismissive of human heterogeneity and autonomy (such as to not do hardly any commercial work and just sit in a field and think) in just the same way that thinking that talking about lessened GDP (that is, after all, presumably the number that’s cited as the “productivity” that is lost) due to smoking is?

        Remember that the whole reason people came up with the idea of “conceiving of the good” was to pursue the idea that it is important to do it right, not just to bless every individual’s preferences. You can say that humans should have so much autonomy as to not have to be burdened with information about what kinds of effects their choices are having in aggregate or have to hear arguments about what that means about choosing the good, but I don’t think you can then appeal to conceiving the good as a justification for that autonomy. Autonomy is autonomy – it just means that people might be using it pursuing bad. If they’re thought to be pursuing the good with it, then that’s going to be a social discussion; that’s bound up in the whole history of the idea. It’s not, “what’s good for me is good for me but what’s good for you might not be good for me.” It’s “Here’s what’s The Good, generally enough conceived that even given normal human diversity, you still should see that it is The Good and that something else inconsistent with it isn’t, if I argue well enough for it.” If you want to talk about conceptions of the good, that’s what you’re talking about. Otherwise, you’re just talking about autonomy, and you don;t get to say that the good is being pursued with it. If you want to say that, you have to have that discussion, which might take the form of dealing civilly with people who think that the productivity lost by a society due to smoking is relevant to the discussion (which equating the idea to ideologies abandoned last century, which only has one kind of connotation, is not).

        Crampton needlessly rhetorically overreaches here.Report

      • This idea, is not merely paternalistic, it’s also inherent dismissive of human heterogeneity and autonomy. This attitude is not new, and belongs to ideologies that we’re supposed to have left abandoned in the 20th Century.

        I’d re-frame the second sentence. Those ideologies that we’re supposed to have abandoned in the 20th centuries embraced that attitude, but that attitude was around long before the 20th century and, I suspect, might outlast it.

        I think we would be very hard pressed to find any community that doesn’t in some way censure behavior ostensibly in the name of that behavior’s allegedly deleterious affect on some amorphous “public” or “community” good. My understanding is that even such permissive institutions as early modern English outdoor relief came with expectations that the recipient act a certain way (and hail from the community, hence the practice of “warning out”).

        The Godwin-style ism’s and even the more disturbing (but ultimately much less onerous) elements of New Deal’ism (CCC boot camp-style “relief” and quasi-voluntary, quasi-compulsory cartel arrangements under the National Recovery Administration, for example) channeled this attitude in service to a centralized state, with much broader power than local communities (although I do sometimes wonder if the power a local community exerts can be more “total” because it’s easier for people to know other people’s business).Report

      • Creon Critic in reply to James K says:

        One place this argument loses me is the either/or mentality. Rights, responsibilities, duties, aren’t on/off switches. There are contextual and proportionality considerations that go unaddressed, especially when reaching straight for totalitarian, authoritarian regimes as comparison points. So were we to erect concentration camps to put all the smokers in, yes, pretty problematic. Merely making smoking less convenient than it was 30 years ago, not such a big deal. Similarly, seat belt laws in the US vary by state with fines ranging from $10 (Kansas) to $200 (Texas). Again here too we have public health/safety advocates demanding you take a safety precaution, even though the person most likely to be harmed is you. Hubris as Damon argues below? Excessive paternalism?

        I don’t see what strong interest the individual has in being free to smoke in bars and restaurants, or the particularly strong interest the individual has in driving without a seat belt. To me, public health considerations are a legitimate object of government oversight and regulation.

        Or, put it this way, between 1991 and 1995 Russian male life expectancy went from 64 to 57. Is this a legitimate concern for the state to take cognizance of? Or must the Russian government sit on its hands and just defer to so many individual conceptions of the good? There’s quite a bit of room for state involvement between do nothing and outright bans: public health campaigns, taxation, etc. Are all of these in between steps also “dismissive of human heterogeneity and autonomy”?Report

      • Kazzy in reply to James K says:


        Why is dying at 57 instead of 64 necessarily a social cost?Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to James K says:


        I can’t say this is what Creon means, but here’s my take.

        1. Dying young deprives society of a chunk of your productive years.

        2. Dying young means you’re more likely to have dependants who will need supplemental support.

        On the other hand, if you wait for your children to grow, then retire, then off yourself, society doesn’t have to spend any more dimes supporting you!

        On the other other hand, hanging on to the bitter end and demanding every life extending procedure, no matter how futile and pointless, will probably cost society more than kicking off young.Report

      • Creon Critic in reply to James K says:

        I’d classify life as a pretty important good, integrally tied to most other goods an individual might hope to pursue. If one of society’s aims is to increase the capabilities of members to pursue goods they have reason to value, then lower life expectancy is a social cost.

        I’m struggling to think of an instance when a dramatic decrease in life expectancy would ever be perceived as a positive development. Can you think of one? Should policy makers be neutral as to such a development?Report

      • Kazzy in reply to James K says:

        I think it depends on the reason for the change. I’ve always said that I’d rather live 60 great years than 70 good years. We could probably all live to 100 on a diet of kale, water, and tofu, but at what cost?

        However, when I asked that question, I meant it in a slightly different way. I’m not curious if society/the state has any obligation to help me live longer. I’m curious if I have any obligation to society/the state to in fact live longer. If I decide to eat steaks, smoke cigars, and drink Scotch every day and peter out at 57, have I failed society? Have I cost them anything, besides my presence for those last years? Do I owe them even that?Report

      • Kazzy in reply to James K says:


        I can recognize that there might be costs to dying young. However, I’m not inclined to think those costs are so great that we should prohibit activities that MIGHT cause people to die young.

        There is also the cynic in me that thinks, “Hey… these prohibitions seems to disproportionately target poor people, people of color, women, and other traditionally marginalized groups. Either paternalism is going on here, routed in racism, sexism, or whathaveyou, -OR- discrimination. Or both.”

        When Starbucks is levied with the same restrictions on cup sizes that Bloomberg wanted to put on Big Gulps, maybe, MAYBE, I wouldn’t snicker at them.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to James K says:

        Kazzy, adding to what James said, nobody is really an island. People’s crappy life-style choices often end up affecting others to. Its like the fable of the grasshoper and the ants where the ants end up taking care of the grasshoper rather than letting him die. Its really immoral and more than a little sub-optimal to let people die from their own lifestyle choices because its probably going to be more people than them that is going to suffer consequences. So a person parties hard and dies young but leaves around children that need to be taken care of.

        Since somebody has to step in and clean up the mess you made than it makes sense to at least get the mess-maker to pay for it in some way.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to James K says:


        I recognize that.

        But there are other ways to bake costs in other than prohibition. I am on board with cigarette taxes if the purpose and structure is to offset costs; in such a case, you are simply asking people to pay full freight. However, if the goal is to discourage it and taxes are intended to be onerous, I am less okay with that.

        I don’t object to social security taxes and the like, which are precisely designed to protect the grasshoppers of the world. I would object if we told the grasshopper that hammock laying was suddenly illegal.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to James K says:

        I’d be remiss if I failed to point out that there is a strong argument to be made that smokers save the system money. The jury is still out, because different models show different results, though.

        I will believe it’s about recouping costs when we attempt to do so consistency, rather than targeting a minority with a habit considered filthy by right-thinking people.Report

      • I think when it comes to cigarette taxes and other sin taxes, there’s another reason for them besides recouping costs or discouraging bad habits. It’s also the need for money. It is, in my opinion, usually better to tax something that’s not a necessity (as someone suggested above, the demand for such things is inelestic). I suppose there’s a point at which the tax can be too much, of course (just ask the gang of criminals and smugglers in colonial Boston who were upset to the point of treason).Report

      • Jim Heffman in reply to James K says:

        “I’d classify life as a pretty important good, integrally tied to most other goods an individual might hope to pursue.”

        Congratulations, you oppose abortion.Report

      • ScarletNumber in reply to James K says:

        The smoker only has reduced productivity because of Draconian anti-smoker laws in the workplace. After all, smoke breaks were invented only because one cannot smoke at one’s desk anymore.Report

      • greginak in reply to James K says:

        I’m fine with people getting smoke breaks as long as i can get the same amount of “just stand around time.”Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to James K says:

        I presume that any non-smoker who considers the current workplace anti-smoking regime over-strict never had to share an office with an unrestricted smoker.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to greginak says:

      Pointing out the social costs of smoking is fine. Using that as a justification to go after smokers and smoking is where I have the issue. It suggests, as the title of this post does, that I have a duty to be healthy. that the government – or to an extent the economy – has a right to expect me to act in ways that reduce their costs by virtue of the fact that I am a beneficiary of government services (or the government is the beneficiary of economic activity). It is something that leaves no stone of my life unturned. That can be used to justify anything. (And I do not care if of course it won’t be used to justify everything. That just means it can and will be used selectively against behavior that society has decided it just doesn’t like. Whew?)Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Will Truman says:

        That’s what I didn’t like about the whole “you didn’t build that!” argument.

        It’s not the whole “but I did build that!” thing, though… it’s the “okay, to what extent am I beholden?” question that follows along with the deep suspicion that someone to whom it would never occur to anyone to point out that “you didn’t build that” would be *LESS* beholden rather than even more beholden to the infrastructure that made their not building possible.Report

  2. Michael Drew says:

    There was some discussion of Christian social theory in the thread on poverty.

    I expect if we were to discover an individual duty to be healthy, it might most likely be found through the route of theological or spiritual theory about the best ways for humans to live. Relatedly, I’m basically ignorant of natural law theory, but it wouldn’t surprise me if some natural law theories held that, as health is almost definitionally an optimum state of affairs, people have a duty based in the nature of the human to seek the good to make choices that lead them toward health. Perhaps similar ideas about a duty to seek the good could be found in Hellenic thought.

    Point being, a duty to be healthy wouldn’t have to be only a social duty owed to others on the basis of costs imposed on them by one’s presumably private behavior (though it could be found there as well).Report

    • Michael,

      I was going to make pretty much that same point. Perhaps because this blog is heavily (though not exclusively) focused on public policy issues, we have a tendency here to jump to the conclusion that “duty to” means “legitimate for the state to compel,” where as you point out, it’s possible to conceive of duty as something else.Report

      • Chris in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        That’s precisely how I read “duty” in the title, as a moral duty, not as something political. I was going to say, “Yes, you do.” Of course, then I read the Nazis were involved, and I realized the post meant something else by “duty.”Report

      • It’s not just that this is a public policy blog. It’s that the distinction between private duty and compelled duty has been blurred particularly regularly. I feel like if I agree to the notion that we do have a duty to be healthy, then I am giving the government a right to try to collect that on that obligation in one way or another.Report

      • Will Truman,

        It’s that the distinction between private duty and compelled duty has been blurred particularly regularly. I feel like if I agree to the notion that we do have a duty to be healthy, then I am giving the government a right to try to collect that on that obligation in one way or another.

        I have very mixed feelings about that statement.

        On the one hand, the pedantic part of me believes that if a private duty exists, we might as well recognize it or discuss it. If someone is going to use a private duty to arrogate more powers to the state or to tell others what to do, then that’s on them, and they will probably try to arrogate power to the state regardless if it can be established that such a private duty exists or that such a private duty has a public component.

        On the other hand, maybe recognizing a private duty does make it easier to blur the lines and create some sort of onerous (or potentially onerous) state-imposed regulation. Perhaps this works somewhat similarly to the mentality (which I’ve seen you criticize in other threads) of assuming that just because x receives some government funding, the government therefore has the authority to dictate most of what x does.

        At the end of the day, I guess I’m agnostic about whether I agree or not, although I lean toward saying we can acknowledge private duties without letting such acknowledgment become fodder for statism. But it’s a close call.Report

    • James K in reply to Michael Drew says:

      To whom would such a duty be owed?Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to James K says:

        Possibly God, possibly the universe, possibly oneself.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to James K says:

        Who should receive funding to ensure this duty is fulfilled?Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to James K says:

        There’s no need to “ensure” the duty is fulfilled. Duties go unfulfilled; that’s the way of the world. (BTW, I’m not saying it exists; I’m just saying it’s a kind of conception of a duty that the post didn’t seem to consider.)

        OTOH, it might be nice to decide to give people a helping hand. I guess that’s just its own question. But the question was who should receive it? Well, if you’re going to offer a helping hand, why not offer it to everyone?Report

  3. Kazzy says:

    I don’t think there is any duty to be healthy. Just as I don’t think there is any duty to be kind, or a host of other things. Those might be preferable, but one is not duty-bound to them.

    However, there is a duty not to punch people in the face. Likewise, I think there is a duty to limit the costs you impose on others via smoking. Not in terms of health care costs and stuff like that. But through second hand smoke. I do think there are some reasonable limitations/restrictions that can be placed on smoking to this end.

    I’m somewhat surprised that “the market” didn’t solve this. Given the choice between going to a bar that allows smoking and one that does not, the vast, vast majority of non-smokers are going to choose the latter. And my understanding is that non-smokers outnumber smokers, though there is not necessarily an even distribution across all demographics. It would seem logical to me that some slick bar catering to yuppies (do we still say yuppies?) might ban smoking while the American Legion Hall might allow it. But I don’t know that this was ever the case, though I should note that the major cities I’ve lived in all enacted smoking bans before I turned 21.Report

    • Pierre Corneille in reply to Kazzy says:

      “Given the choice between going to a bar that allows smoking and one that does not, the vast, vast majority of non-smokers are going to choose the latter. ”

      That sounds reasonable, but I do wonder about it. I’m not and never have been really a smoker, but I used to like going to the occasional bar and, after being there for (ahem) a few hours, I might like to smoke a couple of cigarrettes, because there was something about sitting at a bar, after having drunk a bit, and smoking. So I guess that turned me into a smoker, but one that only smoked about 10 cigarettes a year. Otherwise, I never did and I don’t smoke, and I don’t even really feel a temptation to. (I feel lucky about this, by the way.)

      I think, in other words, there’s an appeal for smoker-friendly bars among at least some non-smokers.

      At the same time, I do generally support smoking bans in bars and restaurants, but with reservations. My principal reason is to protect the workers, who even though they can choose their jobs, have less of a choice than patrons do. The condescending paternalism of my stance is not lost on me (neither is the possibility that many of the bar restaurant workers might already smoke), and I’m not sure exactly where or how I’d draw the line.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        Well, ideally, on a give strip of bars, you might have 7 which are non-smoking and 3 which are smoking. So, if you want to have one of those 10 smokes, you have that option. And smokers obviously can frequent the non-smoking bars and head outside to smoke.Report

      • True, but I also wonder if the population of bar patrons is heavily weighted both toward smokers and toward those who may not like smoking, but might not see smoking bars as a deal breaker. Therefore, the non-smoking bars would have to compete with the smoking bars. Banning smoking, puts the competition on an even basis.

        Of course, another way of looking at it is that banning smoking distorts competition and is a state protection of non-smoking establishments. I generally dislike or am strongly ambivalent about the state protecting businesses, so on a theoretical level, the small/restaurant bans bother me. But ultimately, I come down to supporting them for my above-stated reason that the ban might provide a healthier work environment (and again, I offer the other theoretical items that bother me about this policy, such as its inherent paternalism).Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        Growing up (which is really the only time I lived in a world where you could smoke in bars/restaurants, save for a few trips out of town), it seemed like you could smoke EVERYWHERE. “Smoking or non-smoking” greeted you at every restaurant, even family friendly ones. But back then, we didn’t really know or care about the ill effects of smoking. We’d sometimes opt for the smoking section so my dad could have a cigarette with his meal, right in front of the kids. This didn’t stand out to anyone, though it’d likely seem completely foreign nowadays. I guess fast food restaurants never had anyone smoking, but I don’t know if it was expressly forbidden or if the nature of fast food (eat and go… no lingering) simply discouraged it; still, if it happened, it was the business’s prerogative.

        I’d rather see requirements put in place for establishments that offer smoking than an outright ban. Perhaps no place that serves children could have smoking unless it is housed in an entirely separate area of the establishment*; so bars could still do it and steak houses and other fancy places that don’t allow children or don’t allow children after certain times. If you are going to have smoking, you need certain ventilation equipment, smoke eaters and the like. Those can do quite a bit and really improve the quality of a space. I’ve hung out in cigar lounges with them and while the air wasn’t pristine, it was much clearer than I remember smoking restaurants, and this was a place dedicated to the heaviest smoke possible.

        The biggest factor though is a changing perception of smoking. Bars catered to smokers and smoker-friendly folks because they were much more prevalent and, perhaps more importantly, smoking was more common among the rich and powerful. My anecdotal experience (though I believe data backs this up) is that not only have smoking rates declined, but they’ve declined much more rapidly among the middle- and upper-classes, the people who business owners tend most to cater to. So, again, you’d likely have your nicer or even middle-tier bars mostly banning smoking and your lower-tier bars from most frequently allowing it. Ideally, you’d have choice at all rungs, so as not relegate anyone to either a smoke-filled or smoke-free atmosphere. I can say without a doubt that if two bars are even remotely similar, I’d opt for the non-smoking one over the smoking one, especially if the smoking one is going to be a heavily smoked one.

        * There is an old joke that having a non-smoking section in a restaurant is like having a non-peeing section in a pool; ultimately, everyone ends up covered in the stuff. A local diner in my town had smoking and non-smoking with two doors connecting the two… oh, but the wall between them was only a half-partition, with the top half being open… you know, the space where smoke is most likely to travel. Sigh. Oh, and you had to walk through the smoking section to access the non-smoking section. What were we thinking?Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

      Given the choice between going to a bar that allows smoking and one that does not, the vast, vast majority of non-smokers are going to choose the latter.

      You know what’s weird? I have heard *PRECISELY* the opposite. “Me and my friends want to go out and come home not smelling like an ashtray.”

      This is an argument given for why we can’t have a bar in an unincorporated part of town that allows smoking if the proprietor wishes to allow smoking. The assumption, of course, is always that the cool place will be the place that allows smoking and people will want to go to the cool place, even if its crowded, even if it means that they have to wear clothing that they can wash in the washing machine rather than dry clean, even if it means that they come home smelling like an ashtray.

      So by passing a law, they can make sure that this hypothetical cool place doesn’t act like a magnet.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

        I’m confused. I feel like your friends and I are both saying the same thing: we want to go out and not deal with smoke, thus opting for a smoke-free establishment.

        I think once upon a time, the cool place would have been the smoking place. I don’t think that is the case anymore. And if it is the case… well… so be it. Surely someone will figure out that there are ample people with money to spend who’d like to do so in a smoke-free establishment and open up just such a place to cater to their needs. This demand might not have been there before, but surely it is now. None of my friends smoke. Cigars here and there, but no one is a regular cigarette smoker. We’d almost always opt for the smoke-free spot.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

        Oh, I’m sorry. I read you as saying “my friends would want to go out to a place that didn’t allow smoking AND THEREFORE WOULD GO TO A PLACE THAT DIDN’T ALLOW SMOKING”.

        That seemed a much nicer assumption than “my friends would want to go out to place that didn’t allow smoking and therefore passed laws ensuring that everyplace they might end up would meet spec.”Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

        That IS what I’m saying.

        I don’t like going to place with crappy pizza. I won’t go to places with crappy pizza if I can avoid it. I would never think to pass laws prohibiting crappy pizza, as criminal an action as that might be.

        To summarize: Though I greatly benefit from smoking bans and think there might have been a time where they were necessary and/or justified, I don’t think we are in that place. I would rather bars be allowed to choose and patrons be allowed to vote with their wallets.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Kazzy says:

      There might not be a duty to be healthy or to be kind but as said above, a lot of the people that make hedonistic life-style choice tend to have adverse affects on people besides themselves. This means that somebody has to clean-up the problems and mess that they cause least somebody else suffers from their mistakes. We might not be able to get people to clean up their own messes but we can get them indirectly to pay for it.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to LeeEsq says:

        A lot of those adverse consequences felt by others are a matter of choice, though. If you support socialized health care, for instance, I object to the notion that your preference imparts an obligation on me to make your preferred policy less expensive. Or, put another way, if you (collective second person here) want the government to play a greater “brother’s keeper” role, then don’t use that role to tell me what to do. Because when that happens, it becomes as its critics say it is: welfare programs as a threat to personal freedom.

        (There are limits to this, of course. If you want to help me buy food, it is completely reasonable for you to take measures to make sure that I am not spending that money on cigarettes. But that’s different from a general help met with a boundless degree of authority over the helped.)Report

      • Will Truman in reply to LeeEsq says:

        And, I should add, I am not entirely unsympathetic to purely financial maneuvers. Which is to say, if certain activities cost the system money, and you want to tax those activities purely to recoup the money it costs the system… well, I still have some objection, but that’s certainly a lot more reasonable than “We have decided to take care of your health care expenses. Now, we want to pass a law to force you to wear a helmet when you ride a motorcycle.”

        (Arguments for motorcycle helmet laws can be justified, but if they are justified on that basis it leads to questions being asked about how much freedom I lose when we decide that the government should financially help us.)Report

      • James K in reply to LeeEsq says:

        There’s nothing wrong with taxing an externality, but calculations of the social costs of smoking often go beyond that. It is this excess that Crampton is criticising.Report

  4. George Turner says:

    I assume they don’t compare it to the social cost of drinking (whose equivalent of second-hand smoke is kids killed by drunk drivers) because we already tried prohibition and it didn’t go so well.Report

  5. Damon says:

    I came across a Nazi era anti smoking poster once (I’m a fan of war propaganda posters) and, frankly, it was cool, especially since I’m allergic to cig smoke. Jack boot stomping on a cig and all that.

    The underlying mindset, which goes way deeper than fatty food, cigs, or what have you, and go way farther back than the 20th century, essentially boils down to: Some people know better than you what’s good for you and will agitate to change your behavior, by force if necessary, for the betterment of you and society.

    It’s in play with smoking laws, helmet laws, soda size laws, speed laws, food laws, etc. Frankly, the hubris displayed astounds me. As to why “the market” hasn’t taken care of certain aspects of this, referenced above by Kazzy, is that those wanting to “improve” society aren’t big fans of the market, they prefer “democracy” and gov’t regulation to control other’s behavior. Essentially the market was shoved aside because it wasn’t getting the job done fast enough for good enough.Report

  6. Eric Mesa says:

    My support for the ban on smoking has nothing to do with the smoker’s health – about which I couldn’t care. It concerns my health. In addition to second-hand smoke I have very bad allergies to cigar/cigarette smoke. That’s why I’m OK with others using e-cigarettes and other forms of getting a nicotine high – they don’t affect those around them who don’t wish to partake in the smoking.Report

    • James K in reply to Eric Mesa says:

      That’s different, you’re talking about the external effects of smoking which is a reasonable things for public policy to consider. Having said that, a ban is excessive. The way to deal with an externality is to tax it in proportion to the harm it causes to people who aren’t involved in producing the externality. After all, I’m sufficiently allergic to some pollens that exposure can trigger sneezing fit and even trigger nosebleeds unless I medicate. That doesn’t mean the government should ban or heavily regulate the planting of flowers.Report