Around the world, legislators are hard at work to make it more difficult for people to enjoy one of the worst of their habits: smoking. Even in the United States, states and cities endeavor to prohibit the use of tobacco in more and more places.
Smokers in New York must feel like something close to pariahs these days as their mayor, Michael Bloomberg is toying with the notion of banning smoking from public parks and beaches. Bloomberg, who quit smoking himself several years ago, has crusaded to ban tobacco from bars and restaurants citywide, citing the dangers of second hand smoking. Now he also intends to free the workplace from the cancer sticks.
Because of heavy duties on tobacco, smoking has become an expensive habit in New York City. A pack of smokes is likely to cost the consumer somewhere between ten and fifteen dollars already. Taxes on cigarettes bring in over $400 million for the city every year.
New Yorkers aren’t the only victims of paternalistic government. Earlier this year, the state of Wisconsin was among the latest to ban smoking from restaurants and workspaces. In Uganda, the legislature is thinking about banning smoking from people’s private homes; a measure already undertaken in different parts of California. In Australia, Canada and Scotland, people may no longer smoke in public parking lots nor in the privacy of their own cars whenever they’re carrying children, all at the expense of fines or, in the case of China, a prison sentence.
In Gdańsk, Poland, people are subject to a €25 fine for smoking on beaches while different cities in India have banned candles from restaurants because they could be used to light a cigarette. New Zealand is likely to enact a ban on smoking altogether. Such laws have previously been enacted in Bhutan, Egypt and Iran but to little avail. Unsurprisingly, people will smoke even if it’s illegal.
Few people may be fully aware of the terrible effects which smoking can have on their health. Yet all people know that it’s bad for them. That isn’t stopping more than one billion people worldwide from enjoying it though.
Still, smoking rates have declined considerably in recent decades, especially in the developed world. In the United States alone, between 1965 and 2006, smoking rates dropped from a little over 40 to just 20 percent of the population. Bans and taxes were hardly responsible. People stopped smoking because they realized that they were ruining their health.
No matter the pervasiveness of smoking bans; no matter the duties lawmakers impose on tobacco products, people will smoke if they want to and that’s their right. People control their own bodies, not the state. It is not the government’s place to try to protect people against themselves, no matter the consequences.