Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Investigation

Big tobacco, the new politics, and the threat to public health

BMJ 2019; 365 doi: (Published 15 May 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;365:l2164

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Re: Big tobacco, the new politics, and the threat to public health

I for one would look forward to the day when the nanny state is off my back. There was never any groundswell of public opinion to ban smoking in pubs, and it led to 12,000 pubs closing, 10,000 Working Mens clubs closing and over 100,000 people losing their jobs.

It is a basic tenet of liberty that the individual is left alone and it is an affront to control them unless it is interfering with a third party.

Philosophically many of the draconian taxes on cigarettes and minimum pricing of alcohol are taxes on the poor. The poorest fifth of the country spends 22% of its net available income on tobacco. Why should poor people who like a can of lager in the evening pay more due to state dictat?

After the smoking ban started in 2007 smoking rates were 23% and then display bans, vending machine bans and plain packaging soon followed. The smoking rate in 2013 was 22%, hardly any change. Today it is nearer 17% due mainly to electronic cigarettes. In the late 1970s tobacco companies were designing safer alternatives, but were blocked or unsupported by governments. The American Surgeon-General Everett Koop said in 1984 that there was no need for these replacements as “America will be smoke-free by 2000.” How many millions of people could have been saved if these safer alternatives had been introduced?

Electronic cigarettes are an entirely free market and a real competitor to cigarettes. They are a product of free market capitalism, not something designed by government and hence effective.

I could not help laughing at Scotland, one year after minimum priced alcohol actually started drinking more. Again state interference has been totally unsuccessful.

In conclusion, the nanny state is not only authoritarian it is largely ineffective and a waste of scarce resources.

Competing interests: I regularly attend IEA events which have free refreshments. I have written two articles for the IEA that have been published on their blog, for which I received zero remuneration. I have never been paid, expensed, or received grace and favour from tobacco companies or their nominees. However, I have been paid and expensed by pharmaceutical companies who make nicotine replacement products.

16 May 2019
David Atherton
Freedom2Choose - Chairman