This week, I’ve been thinking about smoking. Full disclosure: My name is Jim and I am a smoker. I have smoked for nearly a decade now – since around 2005 – and I only smoke menthol cigarettes. I am addicted to the sweet menthol smoke, where that touch of red fire at the end of a white stick seems so perfectly suited to almost any occasion from celebration to commiseration. I give up on average for a month or two a year, every year. I always come back, though. The reason I say this is to highlight that I am by no means one of these dour-faced moralizers, condemning smokers for their ‘filthy habit’. Like a snot-nosed child, it may be filthy, but it’s my filthy habit. Most efforts to encourage people against smoking focus on the idea that smoking is personally damaging: it causes illness and death, it costs a lot of money, it harms others, it litters the environment, and so on. This week, however, I’ve been thinking about whether the real concern is that smoking might be morally wrong. (NB: I’m discussing where whether it is morally wrong, not whether it should be legally banned or whether people should have the ‘right’ to smoke – these are distinct questions). Continue reading
For years, ‘sin taxes’ – taxes on socially undesirable and/or addictive substances/activities like smoking, alcohol and gambling – have been a source of controversy. On the one hand, they have been seen as an effective means to raise revenue and reduce consumption of addictive (and generally unhealthy) substances. On the other hand, sin taxes are generally regressive and are rather paternalistic. But beyond these typical disputes, recent research has found a new and important dimension to the sin tax debate: genetics. A study by Jason Fletcher has found that whether or not taxes reduce cigarette consumption depends on the presence of a particular genotype. This suggests an interesting and novel policy: only apply the cigarette tax to those whose genotype indicates they will respond to the tax. But is this a sound policy, or should we be keeping biomarkers out of policy debates over sin taxes? Continue reading
Coming to a mini-mart near you. The FDA has just approved nine very grisly looking warning labels—to be slapped on cigarette packs throughout the USA. But will they work to cut smoking … or will they backfire?
Here are some of the top reasons why these labels may not only fail to achieve the FDA’s desired outcome, but could actually do the opposite – leading to more smoking, not less. Continue reading