Is the smoking ban based on bad economics?

Tim Harford, writing for the FT, thinks so:

England’s smokers are about to be banned from lighting up in pubs, restaurants and offices. [...] The smoking ban is justified using fancy-sounding economic arguments about the ”externalities” of smoking. [...] An ”externality” seems a simple enough concept: it’s a harm suffered or benefit enjoyed by some third party that isn’t reflected in a market transaction. Pollution is the classic example.

Yet the only credible arguments for restricting smoking have nothing to do with economics. The damage caused by second-hand smoke in pubs is not an externality. Neither is the cost to the National Health Service of treating smokers. An ”externality” is not just any old cost or benefit; it has to lie outside a market transaction.

In the case of pubs and restaurants, the market could hardly be more obvious. The landlord wants to attract customers, both smokers and non-smokers, and he’ll do that by giving them the ambience they want. [...] The smoking ban is usually phrased as a ban on smoking in ”enclosed public spaces”. Of course, a restaurant or pub is not a public space: it’s a private space in which the public gather. (If you think a restaurant is a public space, try bringing a picnic along to one.)

Those who argue that smoking should be restricted because of the costs to the National Health Service are on even thinner ice. If I offered to pay for your private medical insurance out of the goodness of my heart, you would be unimpressed, and rightly so, if I then turned round and claimed that your smoking was now costing me money and so I had the right to hide your cigarettes. Similarly, the UK’s decision to fund healthcare from tax revenues does not thereby give the government the right to restrict our freedom to take personal risks. [...] Economic arguments can be double-edged; sometimes they are best not wielded.

Tim has a point when he is saying that 'an ”externality” is not just any old cost or benefit; it has to lie outside a market transaction'. What he misses, however, is the all important concept of property rights and who holds them. Pollution is an externality if the atmosphere is owned by the public; if for some reason the air belongs to the polluting businessman, an externality there is not.

Like Tim, I believe that the smoking ban is a bad policy that rests on dubious economic morality. In fact, I am a smoker with no intention to quit anytime soon, so the ban also harms me directly. Where I disagree with Tim is that, unfortunately, any argument against the smoking ban has to be based on normative (what should be), not positive economics (what is).

The property rights to a pub's air should belong to the landlord, and the property rights to my health should belong to me. In a democratic state with a flexible constitution such as England, however, this is not the case. Property rights are defined by the government as the government sees fit. With the state reserving (or re-claiming) the right to a pub's air or to a citizen's health, the analysis of the smoking ban as correcting an externality stands perfectly well.

That's a shame: the air of my pub should belong to me, and my own body even more so. But don't blame the government for bad economics; blame the morality behind the allocation mechanism of property rights.


  1. John R. Polito Says:

    July 1 Quit Smoking Tips

    Law of Addiction - The law of addiction states, "administration of a drug to an addict will cause re-establishment of chemical dependence upon the addictive substance." Yes, just one powerful puff and you'll be faced with again enduring up to 72 hours of nicotine detox, by far the most challenging period of recovery. We’re not that strong. Adherence to a simple four word restatement of the law of addiction guarantees success to all. No nicotine just one day at a time … "Never Take Another Puff."

    Be Honest With Yourself - Nicotine dependency is every bit as real and permanent as alcoholism. Why play games with yourself? Treating a true addiction as though it were some nasty little habit is a recipe for relapse. There is no such thing as "just one." It truly is an all or nothing proposition.

    Calm the Deep Inner Mind - the primitive subconscious mind sees ending all nicotine use as though you were committing suicide, as though starving yourself to death. It does not think, plan or plot against you but simply reacts to the years of input it has received from the mind’s priorities teacher, the brain's dopamine reward pathways (pathways taken hostage by nicotine) and input it receives from you, via the conscious thinking mind. Calm and reassure it, especially in the fleeting seconds before dosing off into sleep.

    Measuring Victory - Forget about quitting "forever." Like attempting the seemingly impossible task of eating an entire cow or steer, it's the biggest psychological bite imaginable. Instead, work hard at adopting a more manageable "one steak at a time" or better yet "one day at a time" recovery philosophy for measuring victory. If you insist on seeing success only in terms of quitting forever then on which day will you celebrate? Who is coming to that party?

    Recovery Phases - When quitting, the amount of nicotine remaining in your bloodstream will be cut by half every two hours. Within 72 hours all nicotine and 90% of the chemicals nicotine breaks down into will have passed from your body. Physical withdrawal peaks by day three and is substantially complete within 10 days to two weeks.

    Subconscious trigger reconditioning normally peaks during the first week and all but your remote, infrequent or seasonal triggers should be reconditioned within a month. Conscious thoughts of wanting will gradually grow fewer, shorter in duration and generally less intense. Within a few months they'll become the exception not the rule, as you’ll gradually start to develop an expectation of going your entire day without "thinking" about wanting to smoke nicotine.

    Withdrawal Symptoms - As strange as this sounds, withdrawal symptoms are good not bad for they are true signs of healing. Within reason it’s fairly safe to blame most of what you’ll feel during the first three days on quitting. But after that you need to listen closely to your body and if concerned give your doctor a call. If you must, don’t blame your symptoms on where you’re going but, on where you’ve been.

    Possible Hidden Conditions - Each puff of smoke contained more than 500 different gases and 3,500 different particles. One or more of these 4,000 chemicals may have been masking an underlying hidden health problem such as a thyroid condition (iodine), breathing problems including asthma (bronchiodialiators), or even chronic organic depression (nicotine). Your cigarette's chemicals may also have been interacting with medications you were taking and an adjustment may be necessary. Stay alert and contact your doctor or pharmacist if at all concerned.

    Emotional Phases - Chemical dependency upon smoking nicotine is one of the most intense, repetitive and dependable relationships you’ve likely ever known. It has infected almost every aspect of your life. Be prepared to experience a normal sense of emotional loss. Expect to travel through and experience six different emotional phases: (1) denial, (2) anger, (3) bargaining, (4) depression, (5) acceptance, and (6) complacency.

    Quitting Methods - Contrary to less than honest pharmaceutical industry marketing hype which for two decades has painted cold turkey quitting has almost impossible with few succeeding, nearly 90% of all long-term ex-smokers quit smoking cold turkey. Take your own poll. They must think smokers either terribly stupid or extremely desperate. Not only is it our most productive quitting method, it's fast and free. But quitting cold in ignorance and darkness is extremely frightening. When cold turkey quitting is combined with education, skills development and ongoing support it's by far the most effective quitting method of all. It allows quitters to avoid medication side effects and avoid getting hooked on the cure (nearly 40% of all nicotine gum users are chronic long-term users of at least 6 months). All pharmacology products delay brain neuronal re-sensitization to varying degrees. What that means is that there is almost always some degree of back-end readjustment where the quitter is left feeling de-sensitized and wanting to smoke, once treatment ends. In Champix studies, more than half who successfully complete three months of use will relapse to smoking within one year.

    Record Your Motivations - Once in the heat of battle, it is normal for your mind to quickly forget many of the reasons that motivated you to quit smoking. Write yourself a loving reminder letter, carry it with you, and read it often. Make it your first line of defense - a motivational tool that you can pull out during moments of challenge. As with achievement in almost all human endeavors, the wind beneath your recovery wings will not be strength or willpower but robust dreams and desires. Keep your dreams vibrant and on center-stage and no circumstance will deprive you of glory.

    Do Not Skip Meals - Each puff of nicotine was our spoon, releasing stored fats into our bloodstream. It allowed us to skip meals without experiencing wild blood-sugar swing symptoms such as an inability to concentrate or hunger related anxieties. Learn to again properly fuel your body by spreading out your normal daily calorie intake more evenly. Do not skip meals.
    Three Days of Natural Juices - Drink plenty of acidic fruit juice the first three days. Cranberry is excellent and a bottle will cost you about the same as a pack of cigarettes. The acidic juices will not only aid in more quickly removing the alkaloid nicotine but will help stabilize blood sugars. Take care beyond three days as juices can be rather fattening.

    Weight Gain - You’d need to gain at least 75 extra pounds in order to equal the health risks associated with smoking one pack-a-day. Eat vegetables and fruits instead of candies, chips and pastries to help avoid weight gain. Engage in some form of moderate daily exercise if at all concerned about weight gain. Keep in mind that you can expect a substantial increase in overall lung function of up to 30% within just 90 days of quitting. Then, it will aid you in engaging in extended periods of physical activity, in shedding any extra pounds, and in building cardiovascular endurance.

    Stress Related Anxieties - Recognize that contrary to popular thinking, smoking nicotine did not relieve stress but only its own absence. Nicotine is an alkaloid. Stress is an acid-producing event capable of quickly neutralizing the body’s nicotine reserves. As smokers, we added early withdrawal to every stressful event. You will soon discover an amazing sense of calm during crisis. In handling stress during this temporary period of readjustment called "quitting," practice slow deep breathing while focusing your mind on your favorite object, place or person to the exclusion of other thoughts.

    Quitting for Others - You cannot quit for others. It must be your gift to you. Quitting for a child, spouse, parent or friend creates a natural sense of deprivation that will ultimately result in relapse. If quitting for another, how will an addict’s junkie-mind respond the first time they disappoint us?

    Attitude - A positive can-do attitude is important. Take pride in each hour of healing and freedom and in each challenge overcome. Celebrate the full and complete victory each reflects. The next few minutes are all that matter and each is entirely do-able. Yes you can!

    Patience - Years of smoking nicotine conditioned us to be extremely impatient, at least when it comes to our addiction. A deprived nicotine addict could inhale a puff of nicotine and have it arrive and release dopamine in their brain within just 8 seconds. Realize the importance of patience to successful recovery. Baby steps, just one hour, challenge and day at a time and then celebrate the new found patience you just demonstrated.

    Keeping Cigarettes - Get rid of all cigarettes. Keeping a stash of cigarettes makes as much sense as someone on suicide watch keeping a loaded gun handy just to prove they can. Toying with a 50% chance of depriving yourself of 5,000 sunrises isn’t a game. Fully commit to going the distance and seeing what it's like to awaken to new expectations of a nicotine free life.

    Caffeine/Nicotine Interaction - Amazingly, nicotine somehow doubles the rate by which the body depletes caffeine. Studies have found that your blood-caffeine level will rise to 203% of your normal baseline if no intake reduction is made when quitting. Although not a problem for most light to moderate caffeine users, consider a caffeine intake reduction if troubled by anxieties or if experiencing difficulty relaxing or sleeping.

    Subconscious Smoking Triggers - You have conditioned your subconscious mind to expect nicotine when encountering certain locations, times, events, people or emotions. Be prepared for each to trigger a brief crave episode. Encountering a trigger cannot trigger relapse unless you take a puff. Take heart, most triggers are reconditioned and extinguished by a single encounter during which the subconscious mind fails to receive the expected result - nicotine.

    Crave Episodes Less than Three Minutes - In contrast to conscious thought fixation (the "nice juicy steak" type thinking that can last as long as you have the ability to maintain your focus), no subconsciously triggered crave episode will last longer than three minutes.

    Time Distortion Symptom - A recent study found that nicotine cessation causes serious time distortion. Although no crave episode will last longer than three minutes, to a quitter the minutes can feel like hours. Keep a clock handy to maintain honest perspective.

    Crave Episode Frequency - The "average" number of crave episodes (each less than three minutes) experienced by the "average" quitter on their most challenging day of recovery is six episodes on day three. That's a total of 18 minutes of challenge on your most challenging day. But what if you’re not average? What if you established and must encounter twice as many nicotine-feeding cues as the average quitter? That’s 36 minutes of significant challenge. Can you handle 36 minutes of serious anxiety in order to reclaim your mind, health and as much life expectancy as possible? Absolutely! We all can. Be prepared for a small spike in crave episodes on day seven as you celebrate your first full week of freedom from nicotine. Yes, for most of us smoking was part of every celebration. Also stay alert for subtle differences between crave triggers. For example, the Sunday newspaper is much thicker and may have required three cigarettes to read instead of just one.

    Understanding the Big Crave - The average quitter will be experiencing just 1.4 crave episodes per day by day ten. After that you’ll soon begin to experience entire days without encountering a single un-reconditioned subconscious crave trigger. If a later crave episode ever feels far more intense it's likely that it has been some time since your last significant challenge and you've dropped your guard and defenses a bit. It can feel as though you’ve been sucker punched. If one does occur, see the distance between challenges as the wonderful sign of healing the incident reflects.
    Crave Coping Techniques - One coping method is to practice slow deep breathing when experiencing a crave episode. Try briefly clearing your mind of all needless chatter by focusing on your favorite person, place or thing. Another popular three minute crave coping exercise is to say your ABCs while associating each letter with your favorite food, person or place. For example, the letter "A" is for grandma’s hot apple pie. “B” is for warm buttered biscuits. I think you’ll find that you’ll never make it to the challenging letter Q.

    Embracing A Crave - Another coping technique is to mentally reach out and embrace your crave. A crave cannot cut you, burn you, kill you, or make you bleed. Try being brave just once. In your mind, wrap your arms around the crave's anxiety energy and then sense as it slowly fizzles and dies while in your embrace. Yes, another trigger bites the dust and victory is once again yours!

    Confront Your Crave Triggers - Recognize the fact that everything you did as a smoker you will learn to again comfortably do as an ex-smoker. Meet, greet and defeat your triggers. Don’t hide from them. You need not give up anything when quitting except nicotine and everything you did while under the influence of nicotine you'll soon learn to do as well or better as an ex-smoker.

    Alcohol Use - Alcohol use is associated with nearly 50% of all smoking relapses. Be extremely careful with early alcohol use during the first couple of weeks. Using an inhibition diminishing substance and then intentionally surrounding yourself with smokers while still engaged in early withdrawal is a recipe for relapse. Get your quitting feet under you first. If you do use alcohol, once ready to challenge your drinking triggers consider breaking the challenge down into manageable trigger segments. Try drinking at home first without smokers around, go out with smokers but refrain from drinking, or consider spacing your drinks further apart, or drinking water or juice between drinks. Have an escape plan and a backup, and be fully prepared to use them both.
    Support Expectations - Don't expect family or friends who have never been chemically dependent themselves to have any appreciation of your challenges or the time required to achieve substantial comfort. It simply isn't fair to them or you. Find an ex-smoker and ask them if they’d mind being your mentor for the next 90 days. Online you’ll find a number of wonderful quitting support groups.

    No Legitimate Excuse for Relapse - Recognize that smoking nicotine cannot solve any crisis. Fully accept the fact that there is absolutely no legitimate excuse for relapse, including an auto accident, financial crisis, the end of a relationship, job loss, a terrorist attack, a hurricane, the birth of a baby, or the eventual inevitable death of those we love most. Picture yourself not smoking through each and every step needed to overcome the most difficult challenge your mind can possibly imagine.

    Conscious Thought Fixation - Unlike a less than three-minute subconscious crave episode, we can consciously fixate on any thought of wanting to smoke for as long as we’re able to maintain our concentration. Don’t try to run or hide from thoughts of wanting but instead place the thought under honest light. Flavor? Are there any taste buds inside your lungs? Just one puff? For us nicotine addicts, one is too many and a thousand never enough. Treat nicotine dependency recovery as if it were no different than alcoholism. Don’t debate with yourself about wanting "a" cigarette. Instead, ask yourself how you’d feel about going back to your old level of consumption or greater.

    Reward Yourself - Consider putting aside the money that you would have spent buying cigarettes and treat yourself to something you really want after a week or a month. Save for a year and go on a vacation. Even if unable to save, reward yourself by quickly climbing from that deep smoker’s rut and spending time in places where you couldn't smoke, such as movies, libraries and no smoking sections of restaurants, by engaging in activities lasting longer than an hour, and by ever so slightly pushing your normal limits of physical endurance in order to sample the amazing healing within.

    Fully Commit To Going the Distance - Don't be afraid to tell people around you that you have quit smoking. Fully commit to your recovery while taking pride in each and every hour and day of healing and freedom from nicotine, and each challenge overcome. Shed your fears of success.

    Avoid All Crutches - A crutch is any form of quitting reliance that you lean upon so heavily in supporting your quit (yes, a noun) that if quickly removed would likely result in relapse. Do not lean heavily upon a quitting buddy who quits at the same time as you, as their odds of successfully quitting for one year are relatively small. Instead ask an ex-smoker or never-smoker for support, or visit a free online support forum.

    The Smoking Dream - Be prepared for an extremely vivid smoking dream as tobacco odors released by horizontal healing lungs are swept up bronchial tubes by rapidly healing cilia and come in contact with a vastly enhanced sense of smell. See it as the wonderful sign of healing it reflects and nothing more. It has no profound meaning beyond healing.

    See Marketing as Bait - Your recovery means thousands in lost profits to the tobacco industry. They do not want to lose you. See store tobacco advertising and the hundreds of neatly aligned packs and cartons for what they truly reflect - bait. Behind the pretty colored boxes and among more than 600 flavor additives is hidden what many dependency experts now consider earth’s most captivating chemical.

    It's Never Too Late - Regardless of how long you’ve smoked, how old you are, or how badly you’ve damaged your body, it's never too late to arrest your dependency, become its master, and commence the most intense period of healing that your mind and body have likely ever known.

    Study Smokers Closely - They are not smoking nicotine to tease you. They do so because they must, in order to replenish a constantly falling blood-serum nicotine level that declines by one-half every two hours . Most nicotine is smoked while on autopilot. What cue triggered the public feeding you're now witnessing? Watch acid-producing events such as stress or alcohol quickly neutralize their body’s nicotine reserves. Witness their endless mandatory cycle of replenishment.

    Thinking vs. Wanting - There is a major distinction between thinking about smoking and wanting to smoke. Don’t confuse the two. After years of smoking you should expect to notice (especially in movies) and smell smokers but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to smoke. As for thoughts of wanting, with each passing day they’ll gradually grow shorter in duration, generally less intense and a bit further apart. Eventually they’ll grow so infrequent that when one arrives it will bring a smile to your face as it will be your only remaining reminder of the amazing journey you once made.

    Non-Smoker or Ex-Smoker - What should you call yourself? Although it’s normal to want to be a non-smoker there is a major distinction between a never-smoker and an ex-smoker. Only the ex-smoker can grow complacent, use nicotine and relapse.

    Complacency - Don't allow complacency to destroy your healing and glory. The ingredients for relapse are a failing memory of why we quit and of the early challenges, rewriting the law of addiction to exempt or exclude ourselves, and an excuse such as stress, celebration, illness, finances, war, death, or even a cigar at the birth of a baby.

    Relapse - Remember that there are only two good reasons to take a drag once you quit. You decide you want to go back to your old level of consumption until smoking cripples and then kills you, or, you decide you really enjoy withdrawal and you want to make it last forever. As long as neither of these options appeals to you - no nicotine just one day at a time ... Never Take Another Puff!

    Breathe deep, hug hard, live long,

    John R. Polito
    Nicotine Cessation Educator

  2. Anonymous Says:

    John R Polito, you are a twat. What does your reply have to do with the post, the economics of the smoking ban, the economics of property rights, or indeed anything?

    Presumably you just scour the Internet all day long looking for places to post tips on how to give up smoking. "Never take another puff"? Sheer genius - I bet lots of smokers that have tried to quit and failed are kicking themselves that they forgot to not have another puff.

    Twat twat twat.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Heart attacks are less likely for non-smokers as compared to the smokers. According to WHO, individuals who quit smoking decrease their risk of CAD one year later by 50 %. If you have quit smoking, for 15 years, your risk of dying from CAD is almost as low as a life time non-smoker.