9.27.2012

Tasmania Passes a Prohibition on Smoking - Is It a Good Policy?

From the Independent of Ireland:

"THE Australian state of Tasmania is considering a ban on cigarette sales to anyone born after the year 2000 in an attempt to create a smoking-free generation.

A week after Australia upheld the world's first plain-packaging laws, Tasmania's upper house unanimously passed a motion to introduce the ban from 2018.

The measure was proposed by Ivan Dean, an independent MP, who said the ban would be easy to enforce because the state already has restrictions on sales of cigarettes to minors.

It would be the world's first such age-based ban and is reportedly also being considered in Singapore and Finland.

Mr Dean, a former police officer and mayor, said the ban would prevent young people "from buying a product that they can't already buy" but that it would not affect adult smokers.
 
"This would mean that we would have a generation of people not exposed to tobacco products," he said.
 
"As the generation reaches 18 years, there will be fewer of them smoking and while some of those first turning 18 might smoke, as time goes on fewer and fewer will."'
 
While for personal reasons I believe that it is for the best that people don't smoke, I can't help but think that there are a number of potential problems with this legislation.  
 
1. There are enforcement issues. I can't imagine that it will be a pleasant experience for convenience store clerks some time in the future to card 70 year-olds. In addition, it is difficult to believe that the ban will be enforced against those who receive cigarettes from a legal buyer who is a friend, a co-worker or a spouse.
 
2. What about people going abroad and picking up the habit where it is legal and then coming back to Tasmania? What about immigrants? While there are often different laws in different jurisdictions visitors must comply with, they don't typically involve addictive substances widely legal in the rest of the world, and indeed available to others in that very same jurisdiction.
 
3. There are, of course freedom of choice issues. While I understand the need for a cutoff date to make this rolling prohibition plan work, it does seem a bit arbitrary that smoking will be legal for some adults, but not for others.
 
4. A slightly odd one, but I would have to imagine that this would greatly reduce tobacco company liability in lawsuits. In fact, liability might even be extinguished unless the statute says otherwise (I am not sure of this one way or the other). Of course tobacco lawsuits will not be as big an issue after smoking is obliterated, but this wouldn't do anything for today's smokers who were less aware of negative consequences. As there are legislative fixes for this, it is less of an issue than some of the others here, but it isn't nothing.
 
5. Other prohibited products, particularly addictive ones, give rise to black markets. Black markets, in turn, give rise to crime.
 
6. What comes next? Fatty food? Big sodas? Salty snacks? Fast cars?
 
Some of these thoughts have fixes, others do not. Some I just took from others. I myself feel some of the issues are relatively minor, or are much ado about (almost) nothing. However, it is important for legislators to consider all of the consequences of their actions, even when those actions are well-intended. It is not clear to me that they did so in this case.

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