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If smoking is so damn bad for you why don't they just make it illegal?

We asked people that know their butts from their elbows

If smoking is so damn bad for you why don't they just make it illegal?
14 March 2018

Smoking is really bad for you. Everyone knows that, and it’s why there are manky pictures of gums and lungs on fag packets and you can’t have adverts with camels in.

But, if it’s so objectively bad for you why hasn’t the government, you know, just banned it? We asked two people on opposite sides of the tarry, butt-covered fence.

Stevie Benton is the Communications Manager of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), a public health charity working to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco. Simon Clark is Director of Forest, a group that represents “adults who choose to consume tobacco and non-smoking adults who are tolerant of other people’s enjoyment of tobacco”. Despite having quite opposing views on tobacco regulation, they hit very similar points on terms of why the ol’ cancer sticks are still in shops.

Prohibition doesn’t work

America banned booze once, and it was a disaster. “The prohibition of alcohol in the United States scared politicians off, with good reason,” says pro-smoker Simon Clark of Forest. “The cost of enforcement would be horrific and the reality is that people would get round it. With the high price of tobacco caused in this country by punitive taxation, a lot of people are already buying black market tobacco. With prohibition, not only would the government be taking the money out of their own pockets, they’d be handing over the profits to criminal or terrorist gangs.”

“Our primary aim is to reduce the number of people smoking tobacco” says Stevie Benton of ASH. The most effective ways to achieve this are through regulation, not through prohibition. With smoking prevalence at 15.5% among adults in England, and higher among some of our most disadvantaged communities, prohibition would put an awful lot of people outside the law.”

It’s been around for too long

“Part of the reason for the high prevalence of smoking is historical” says Stevie Benton of ASH. “For a long time the only suggestions that smoking was bad for you came from anecdotal evidence. At one point over 50% of the adult population smoked. As evidence accumulated linking smoking with cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease and other conditions, groups such as ASH worked with the government to try and reduce the prevalence of smoking.”

“We’ve seen a tendency for smokers to be so stubborn that the more they’re told what to do the more they’re reaching for their fags in defiance,” says Simon Clark of Forest. “Smokers adapted to the ban in pubs, and changes at the point of sale have made little difference. Young people are always going to be curious about smoking. It’s not going away.”

Too many people “like” it to ban it

“15.5% of the population is not an insubstantial amount of people” says Simon Clark of Forest. “That’s a sixth of the country that smoke, and one of the taboo subjects that nobody ever wants to talk about it that that a lot of people rather enjoy smoking. They know about the health risks and many smokers want to quit, but some don’t they enjoy it and take pleasure from it. It’s not something people are just going to walk away from.”

“Tobacco marketing isn’t about customers making informed choices, it’s about getting young people addicted,” says Stevie Benton of ASH. “It’s hard to imagine that, if tobacco was only discovered now, it would be in any way permissible to market it so aggressively to young people. Smoking kills more people annually than alcohol, illegal drugs and suicide combined.”