Monday, May 03, 2010

Government ignores alcohol's costs instead going for a soft target

Writing in The Age, Jeremy Bass points out the obvious:

Our relationship with alcohol is far more complex than it is with tobacco. It goes back a few thousand more years, for a start. And unlike tobacco, alcohol sits wide astride the terrain from virtue to villainy. It tastes great (in some forms at least) and feels great going down. It salves the bad and makes the good better. It makes corporate Christmas parties almost bearable, and it has helped turn countless awkward first dates into long, stable marriages. And has anyone ever come up with a better cold-and-flu killer than two Panadols and three double scotches?

It can also turn otherwise normal people into reprobates of all kinds: crazymakers, liars, thieves, street and domestic thugs, culpable drivers and murderers. Others it dooms to mere under-achievement, dereliction of domestic and workplace duty, wet brains and dereliction, period. It fouls up footpaths, soils trousers and ruins train rides.

When did tobacco ever take that kind of toll? Jails are no doubt jam packed with smokers - the habit is finding increasing concentration among lower socio-economic groups and the under-educated, from which prisons draw a high proportion of their populations. But tobacco consumption played very little if any direct part in populating prisons and courts.

The same can't be said for alcohol. There is no shortage of people inside for alcohol related crimes, anything from repeat drunk-driving offences to murder, of which many have no memory. And that's just up the serious end of the scale, before we start factoring in the thousands of glassings, minor skirmishes and misdemeanours with which police and ambulance people have to deal every year. And ask those cleaning up in its wake and you'll find it doesn't do anything for witness reliability either.

Click that link and read the whole thing. And there's also this from the The Economist way back in 1997 (no link):

 Several economic analyses have been done, says Kip Viscusi, a Harvard University economist, “and they all show that smokers save society money.” Smokers die before they can collect their expensive public pensions and nursing-home benefits. Moreover, cigarettes are the world’s most heavily taxed consumer good. In America, which is on the low side by industrial-country standards, the tax has averaged $0.57 a pack (varying by state, and set to rise 10 cents on January 1st). This is more than is needed to pay what anybody thinks smokers cost society, even when you include a generous estimate for the social costs of second-hand smoke.

Let there be no uncertainty about what is going on here: smokers are paying the rest of us for the privilege of puffing. The rest of us may justify this on grounds that smoking less would be better for smokers. But why not, then, a fatty-foods tax? A motorcycle tax? A failure-to-floss tax? If anyone is being treated unfairly in the current scheme, it is the smokers. In any event, once smokers pay their own way, which they more than do already, monetary cost provides no excuse to treat smoking as the public’s business.

Bereft of better grounds to assert that smoking is a social problem, anti-smoking activists then become creative. Some of them assert, for instance, that parents’ smoking hurts asthmatic children. This may be true, but it is an argument for better parents, not fewer cigarettes. More commonly, some crusaders argue that smokers are pawns of tobacco companies, which ought to be punished.

On this line, one American anti-smoking activist says that cigarette makers are “responsible for the premature deaths of more Americans than any other group of individuals who have ever lived”; a British headline declares “Cigarette makers ready to buy off their victims”; a prominent anti-tobacco lawyer likens tobacco companies to “the bully who physically assaults a victim unable to defend himself”. It is impressive how common this sort of sentiment has become, given that, on its face, the portrayal of smokers as bullied or deceived victims is preposterous.

Smokers, many of them disadvantaged or mentally ill, or both, and the recipients of government benefits, will now have now have to pay even more for a habit that relaxes them and gives them pleasure. So the government gives with one hand and takes back with the other.

It's time to leave smokers alone, instead targeting the huge economic and social costs associated with alcohol.



Anonymous Intrigued Asian reader said...

Remember, it's only copy-and-paste blogging when someone else does it.

4:34 AM  

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