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Several ethicists recently defended regulations that aim to reduce the harm associated with nicotine and tobacco use. Halliday argues for smoking licences.1 van der Eijk endorses strict limits on access to electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS)2 and Grill and Voigt defend a complete ban on the sale of cigarettes.3 These proposals are supported by principles that are widely shared by public health officials and many philosophers. For example, Goodin,4 Conly,5 Proctor,6 Hooper and Agule7 and Wilson8 all express support for smoking bans or cigarette taxes.
It is uncontroversial that smoking is a very unhealthy practice. Smoking limits a person's life expectancy by a decade on average, causes chronic diseases and is often a choice that people come to regret.3 Smoking is the largest preventable cause of death in the world, which is why Proctor calls cigarettes a public health catastrophe.6 But it does not follow from the fact that smoking is enormously bad for people's health that prohibitive tobacco and nicotine laws are justified. Though criticism of the tobacco industry is warranted,6 I argue that policies that amount to coercive paternalism are nevertheless unacceptable and only a non-prohibitive approach to smoking cessation is justifiable.
Philosophers rely on four double standards when arguing for prohibitive antismoking policies. First, they hold addictive nicotine products to more restrictive standards than other threats to individual autonomy. Second, they hold the tobacco industry to more restrictive standards than other potentially harmful industries. Third, they hold public health officials to weaker moral standards than they would apply to other citizens. Fourth, they hold their own proposals to standards of ideal enforcement while citing the non-ideal effects of a non-prohibitive system. Many of the arguments in favour of restricting tobacco and nicotine products also overlook less …
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