“…this deadly form of promotion…”

In the course of arguing in favour of the latest batch of restrictions to the sale of tobacco David Hill pointed out the dangerous nature of colourful advertising.

“Make no mistake: a cigarette pack is more than just a harmless container. As other forms of tobacco advertising have been banned, cigarette packaging has become the industry’s primary vehicle for appealing to potential smokers, particularly our children. Through the clever application of colour, illustration and design, companies are able to create a point of difference for their carcinogenic products.

The proposed plain packaging legislation will end this deadly form of promotion and make significant inroads into reducing rates of smoking initiation and consumption, thereby saving some of the 15,000-plus lives lost in Australia every year to tobacco.”

So, to recap, the argument is: by creating symbolic differences, cleverly, between cigarettes, tobacco companies are killing people.

To put this argument in favor of restrictions to cigarette packaging in a slightly better light we might suggest that what is meant is that the packaging differences distract people from the reality of tobacco – that it kills you. Tobacco companies are marketing their product in this way so that people become addicted to cigarettes. Since such addiction is deadly, the marketing is deadly. Therefore, such marketing should be made illegal.

Doesn’t this rely on the idea that addiction is permanent irrevocable compulsion, that it is impossible to stop smoking cigarettes and that smokers are not choosing to smoke but are forced to? I don’t think that this is true.  That there is such a thing as an ex-smokers appears to prove that this is false.

If the definition of addiction is lowered to mean something seen as attractive or with some degree of compulsiveness associated with it, beyond what might be understood as ‘naturally necessary’, i.e. things that are pleasurable, then the argument appears sound.

But if that approach is taken we must ask why many other things are not similarly treated: cars, alcohol, food, even exercise can all be seen as addictive, according to such lenient definition of addiction. They all can be seen as leading to death if pursued out of some compulsion for the pleasure of their pursuit. The more you drive a car for pleasure, the more likely you are to die. The more food you eat for pleasure, the more likely you are to die.  The more exercise you do for pleasure, the more likely you are to die.

All these activities are promoted by people through symbolic means that cleverly distract one from the fatal consequences of pleasure. If one were to be consistent wouldn’t this latest effort to regulate the sale of tobacco need to be expanded to other products? Shouldn’t cars, McDonalds, gyms, bars, churches (at least those that fail to perfectly pursue the renunciation of pleasure – I am looking at you Catholicism), restaurants and all other things not ‘naturally necessary’, be required to present themselves in plain packaging covered in images of impending doom?

Tobacco restrictions either deny individual autonomy or are ascetic. The presumptions behind them are either: that people are not able to make decisions for themselves; or, that nicotine as a form of pleasure should be made illegal.

Whilst it can be argued that tobacco companies deliberately seek to dispel suggestions that their product is harmful it cannot be argued that they are all powerful in their efforts here.  People are capable of making decisions for themselves. Tobacco companies are not forcing people to smoke, people choose to smoke. This is proven by the existence of non-smokers.  Some people may make choices others would not, autonomy is something that should be encouraged, not presumed away.

With respect to the banning of tobacco and the pleasure of nicotine, the argument comes down to two issues. The first issue is the harm done to others as a result of smoking in public places. This is not so much about banning the pleasure of nicotine and smoking but the banning of smoking around others.

Second is the harm done to others as a result of the pleasurable pursuit of smoking by the individual, ‘smoking related illnesses’ (which often includes the condition known as ‘needing a smoko’). It is here that we are actually dealing with the activity of smoking itself.

The argument is: smoking should be banned because it is costing the ‘tax-payer’ and ‘the economy’ such and such billion dollars in lost work hours, medical treatment etc etc etc.  By indulging in the pleasure of tobacco, smokers are harming others, therefore, smoking should be banned.

Now one can understand this as referring to a particular pleasure: nicotine. But nothing differentiates the objection to this pleasure from the level of simply prejudice, equal with those against people indulging in sodomy and thus harming others by virtue of costs via medical treatment and lost work hours.

If the harm of this pleasure cannot be identified as something distinct from lost productivity then questions must be raised about its envisioned abolition. If the pursuit of productivity were taken as a valid principle of governance then we would be pursuing constant war with humanity – those people that persistently go beyond the ‘naturally necessary’.

Taking harming others as equal to the pursuit of pleasure is not something that should be made law. It is perhaps because of the odiousness of this argument that we have proposals that tobacco packing should not be anything but plain and covered in images of doom, rather than that smoking should be illegal.

If people believe that people shouldn’t smoke they should seek to persuade others to this belief.  There is no need to get the police, with their recourse to violence, to enforce compliance. At the end of the day such use of the law is merely saying that it is justifiable to murder somebody in the name of eliminating pleasure.


About barkingcoins
This author is just another fucking dickhead.

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