helen for president

Some people at lunch were talking about how they're opposed to New York's smoking ban because it infringes upon free exercise. As a quasi-libertarian I'm all for this, but thinking about it this afternoon I think I've poked a few holes. I think. I'm sure there are many holes to be poked right back. Poke poke poke.

Anyway, heres' the gist: the idea of smoking being something we choose to do, an activity we enter into of our own free will, is a totally attractive one. But it's radically corrupted by the existence of tobacco advertising.

Classically, the purely capitalist state and the purely libertarian state have a fair bit of overlap. So capitalism is aided by the existence of advertising - it moves product, raises the bottom line - but what about its effect on rational choice? If anything, advertising is the enemy of rational choice - it replaces our instinctive measure of the desirability of a product (based on its qualities and necessity) with a new system driven by psychological manipulation and superficial imaging.

So within our advertising-riddled society, the choice to smoke is, arguably, NOT a rational one. And the continuation of the behavior - driven by a chemical addiction - further undermines the libertarian extension that continued behavior ought to be informed by continued rational decision-making. Especially in the instance of smoking - something with myriad negative externalities, where people who don't choose to smoke are still reaping harms - that is VERY problematic.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that as long as the government is restricting rational choice by allowing tobacco advertising to exist, I support a ban on smoking as a counterbalancing measure to protect those of us who choose not to smoke. At the same time, I think if we stripped all advertising and maybe found a way to eliminate the addictive element of cigarettes, not banning smoking is also not a horrible idea - so long as nonsmokers had somewhere they could go.

Anyway, poke away. Poke poke poke.


Anonymous said...

Although I will say I prefer the hilarity of your usual posts, I will also say this: my big issue with the people who argue that the smoking ban is unconstitutional is that being in a smoky room makes me (and lots of other people) sick...like really nasty sick. Am I just not supposed to ever go out of my house because someone else wants to smoke?
I agree that people make the decision to smoke; I do not make the decision to barf as a response to other peoples' smoke. I think that if I walked around a restaurant or bar smelling like rotten eggs or spoiled fish (or doing something else that would definitely make everyone else sick as well as endanger their health to a degree) then neither smokers nor non-smokers would back me up when I claimed it was my constitutional right to smell how I want regardless of how it effects them.
I dunno...I could be wrong, but it seems to me like there's a bit of a double standard (not to mention hella inconsideration) on smokers' parts.
Personally, I'd be down with making some bars smoking bars and some non-smoking...but that's just me.

- Alexis

p.s. I really do enjoy reading your blog; it's always amusing (at the very least)

Gregory said...

That seems like a good reason to ban smoking advertizing (which has been done on TV, and in magazines targetted at any demographic under-18).

What I think is more important, though, is the freedom to expression that's harmed by smoking bans. See, smoking is cool. I like being cool. And by being forced to not smoke, I am being deprived of the ability to self-actualize on my badassness. This is an issue the government obviously knows nothing about, but is the clear rights violation here.

Anonymous said...

From what I understand, in a capitalist society there should be few, if any, impediments to how 'market value' is ascertained; note that 'market value' isn't necessarily price but that the two are rather inextricably linked. In order for market value to flow with the market (read: reflect utility in consumer purchases under conditions of scarcity) firms have to be unable to influence the price of their products, meaning that it is ascertained almost wholly by supply/demand.

While many would argue that externalities like advertising affect this the only way that the economic model of capitalism as a 'free market' can exist is when supply is the quantity that producers are willing to sell at a given price and demand is the quantity of a good that consumers are not only willing to purchase but also have the capacity to buy at the given price. If demand elasticity were subject to subliminal advertising the marginal use value of all participants would not be equalized. In other words, mutual gain of exchange doesn't exist and the market won't be able to shift in an attempt to clear.

Which is all a very bloated way of saying if you take the choice away from the consumer they're no longer free entities reacting in a market, instead they're communist (just because I like typing the word) drones that take what is given them. You can definitely argue that advertising influences choice but the moment at which it eradicates rational choice there is a market failure (like, say, the existence of a monopoly...) that is hardly what anyone, even your fabulousness, can call 'pure capitalism.'

No matter how dumb people think it is to start smoking it's still a rational choice, regardless of the effect. And if we allowed the government to intervene on behalf of anything that advertises you'd have a lot more toy companies being sued for making their products too 'kid friendly' and placing unwanted emotional distress on poor parents. Close, but it lacks the cigar. Or something.

-your popbitch partner in crime...

Colleen said...

Smoking cigaretts is a rational decision. my parents managed to embue in me the smoking-is-bad mantra, and Don't do it just to look cool. Then i got to college and found out that smoking cigarettes means making friends and looking cool, and, well, that seems perfectly rational, no?

and giving into addiction is also perfectly rational, for without the giving in, addiction itself does not exist.

i just wish individual establishments could make the smoking/non-smoking decision on their own. maybe they have to go all one way or all the other, because we all know 'smoking sections' can become nothing more than a sign that stands tall between two rows of tables.

then, smokers who want a puff to settle the large meal of burrrrrrritos and margs can do so and the latte drinking vegetarian non-smokers can eat their alfalfa in peace as well.

singerman said...

Well I'll spare you a lecture on the difference between informative and persuasive advertising, or whatever the other kind is called, and anyway it's not a clear distinction, but they have done studies on cable and who watches what and who buys what after watching what and stuff like that. And basically yeah we're commie drones.

Smoking to me is a rational choice iff (that is, "if and only if") you can make like Humphrey Bogart and talk with the cigarette dangling out of the corner of your mouth.

helen said...

the "but smoking is cool" is a pervasive, but not persuasive, argument.

and dave, we all know what "iff" means. we're an educated bunch.

Sarah said...

Where it gets hairy for me is in the face of the advertisements heavy on the pathos showing a picture of a woman while her child does a voice over of how cigarettes killed her mother. That's a bit disingenuous, since the woman was a participant in the process that cumulatively may have led to her demise. If you don't know that smoking is bad for you, I want shelter under that rock you're living under because that's some fantastical property you've got there.

But then, I support whole heartedly the smoking ban in public places, because I choose not to smoke, and like Alexis, the presence of smoke in the air I breathe usually makes me ill. So my right to breathe and remain healthy when I go out to eat should trump a smoker's right to a moment of pleasure inside the restaurant. But then, in general, where to draw the line when protecting someone from their own ignorance is a difficult decision in all matters.