Banning Cigarettes? Government would be better off to butt out

By Ivan Morgan
October 27, 2023 Edition

Cognitive dissonance: A fifty-dollar word we were taught in university which refers to the state people are in when they do something even though they know its bad for them. Like smoking.

There has been some noise in media outlets and social media lately about making tobacco and cigarettes illegal in Canada.

Smoking is bad for you. We all know that.  It’s a disgusting habit. I started when I was 12 and quit when I was 32. I consider quitting one of the major accomplishments of my life. It’s probably why I am still around. Nobody smoked more than I did. Two or three packs a day, and when I got on the beer…  Look out!

It took me two years to quit. But here’s the point: I quit.

New Zealand and Great Britain are proposing banning cigarettes and tobacco. They want to create a smoke free generation, and they are passing laws to try and achieve that. Canada is mulling over the idea. I’m not so sure banning it is a great idea. It sounds commendable in theory, but in practice?

In the last century, knowing alcohol was a terrible societal problem, we banned it, calling it prohibition. It didn’t work. It just made people willing to break the law become rich selling illegal booze to folks who wanted a drink, which was most people. In my time it was marijuana.  Why was that ever illegal? Now it’s legal and, ironically, most people don’t smoke it. Today we have a terrible illegal prescription drug problem. Yet folks are getting them and using them, even though those drugs are already banned without prescription.

People like their vices, it’s just a fact of humanity. They know it’s bad for them but don’t seem to care. Some take it to excess. We all know them. Some use drugs like nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, or prescription drugs to treat their mental health symptoms.

There’s always been a debate about how much the government – that’s you and I – should do to control what other people do. 

For example, smoking. We have warnings on every pack, gruesome pictures showing the damage smoking can do to your health The stuff is also taxed to the hilt. Now the federal government is ordering a warning to be printed on every single cigarette. All good ideas to try and get people to quit. Yet people still smoke. 

That’s my point. Get them to decide not to smoke. Not force them to do so for their own good, because my guess, backed up with centuries of evidence, is they won’t. 

My argument? With all the measures listed above people still smoke. Do you think these people will stop if it’s banned? I don’t. I mentioned earlier I started smoking when I was 12. Why? We weren’t allowed to. How cool were we defying parents, teachers, and other grownups! I started smoking precisely because I wasn’t allowed to.

A government deciding what they should do to protect you from yourself is a slippery slope.  Today it’s tobacco. What’s next? Banning sugar? Look at how obesity has become such a problem in our society. Outlawing fatty foods? 

The goal is to get people healthy. Are laws the way to do that? Will folks be dining on underground chips, gravy, and dressing in a few years?

How about voting? I have worked with people in politics utterly convinced they were right and people who don’t agree with them were, bad, evil, or deficient. Maybe democracy, if it doesn’t go your way, is bad for the rest of us. History is full of examples of this.

These are the good intentions that pave the road to hell.

When I write things here I always try to be as fair and balanced as I can. So maybe a word for those who love their smokes and other vices.

There’s a great joke where an old fellow goes to the doctor. The doctor examines him and says if he gave up cigarettes and alcohol, he could easily live another 20 years. The old fellow looks at him for a minute and asks, “Why?”

Ivan Morgan can be reached at ivan.morgan@gmail.com

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