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Grill and Voigt favour a ban on cigarettes1 and I think they are correct to think this is morally permissible. Their justification for the ban is less than clear, however. They write in their introduction that ‘the argument for a tobacco ban requires a weighing of the pros and cons and how they impact on different individuals, both current and future. The weightiest factor supporting a ban, we argue, is the often substantial wellbeing losses individuals suffer because of smoking’. And this is weighty enough, they conclude to outweigh losses to freedom and autonomous choice. I again agree, but the question is what we can say to someone who does not agree, someone who thinks that the loss to freedom and autonomy outweighs the gain in well-being.
What is the unit of measurement we are using when we weigh well-being versus autonomy? Grill and Voigt do not say. It is true that some people will have intuitions that accord with theirs but many people do not. Many people argue that if people make decisions that result in illness or early death that is their own responsibility, as long as information on the danger is readily available, which it is for cigarettes in many places. They will argue that allowing interventions to save people from bad decisions means we are treating them like children, and treating them as if we who intervene consider ourselves superior in a …
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.