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Friday, 20 July, 2001, 09:53 GMT 10:53 UK
Can tobacco companies ever justify smoking?
Tobacco giant Philip Morris is under fire for claiming that premature deaths from smoking are economically beneficial to a country's finances.
In a report for the Czech government, Philip Morris claimed the Czech exchequer saved about $147m in 1997 through the deaths of smokers who would not live to use healthcare or housing for the elderly.
The company claims the report was part of an "ongoing debate" about the economics of cigarette taxes.
But anti-smoking groups have condemned the study as a "scary logic" on which to base policy decisions.
Can cigarette companies ever hope to justify smoking? Is freedom to choose enough of a defence? Or is smoking simply indefensible?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
A. Bradley, USA/ UK
I have just given up my 35 year career as a musician in the function/reception circuit because I have had enough of being expected to breathe in other people's smoke, with no effective support from the Health and Safety Executive. Yes I do drive and I'm on that case as well. There's urgent need to develop vehicles which run on more acceptable fuels.
I have no wish to deny anyone their genuine enjoyment, I am sympathetic to the needs of the addict, and I do not wish to see anyone lose income,
but one person's 'freedom and choice' is another's misery! The tobacco industries have had it their own way for too long and it's high time for change.
I would like to see the gradual 'banning' of this anti-social activity. No tobacco advertising allowed, 'Smoking will kill you' on the front and back of each pack. Follow the Singapore model where smoking in the street is banned.
It would appear that a poor diet and little exercise is more hazardous than smoking; the Japanese smoke more than most countries but have the longest life expectancy.
The question that I have never found an answer for is 'how does the cigarette advertising community sleep at night'?
Philip Morris got what they deserved when they got sued for $3bn. They are merely making money out of an addictive and dangerous substance that can't be outlawed because the Government gets too much money from people dying this way.
Interestingly, the "other" objections of the anti-smoking lobby involved the lack of investigation on spending on alternatives to smoking. Having myself written a dissertation on the effects of taxation and demand for cigarettes (in the UK), one of the conclusions reached was that the cost of substitutes (mainly in leisure, specifically in sports) in health treatment for the Government were much higher, not only due to longer life-expectancy, but also due to the cost to the health services of those involved in sports accidents. This without compensation through taxes.
But no-one would like sports to be taxed now, would they?
James Coyle, Wales/ UK
I have been a smoker for the past 15 years and have always known the risks. In addition, I have fought for my human right to smoke with the two great arguments of:
1. Walk along ANY major city's main road and intake more carcinogenic filth from the fumes than in a packet of 20!
2. The taxes accrued from the smokers of most countries UK especially, US excepted, pay for the National Health Service many times over.
Smoking has always been beneficial to the Exchequer ever since tobacco was first taxed. Long live the smoker as a non-smoking state will require a larger income tax to pay for the services tobacco funds now.
If one wants to smoke cigarettes smoke them, if not, don't. It isn't that difficult.
I don't pretend to be in a position to
weigh up all of the scientific
arguments (even though most seem
to be against smoking), but anyone
who suggests that smoking is a
good thing because it kills lots of
people must be criminally insane,
and a real danger to us all!
Nils Eriksson, Sweden
Smokers contribute in tax far more than it costs the NHS in spending on smoking related illness, perhaps this is why the government's attempts to curb smoking always seem so half-hearted. In the same way the petrol taxes seem to discourage investment in alternative fuels. A sea change is needed in the balance of attitudes to money and the health of both people and the planet - a change which I cannot see coming with this generation of world leaders.
Asheber Yohannes, Slovakia
The question should be "can people ever justify smoking?" The answer is "yes", as everyone should have a right to die horribly as well as to live - this is personal responsibility. I don't blame the distilleries for supplying me with (highly taxed) alcohol. Are you overweight ? Should we tax junk food more?
I'd like to thank Philip Morris for this report. It may have given me added incentive to quit smoking.
I think it's hilarious that people smoke themselves to death. Everyone is clearly aware of the fact that cigarette smoking is highly likely to kill you in the long term and yet they continue to puff away. I am an ex-smoker who finally woke up to the truth and gave up this disgusting practice. Those who are too stupid or too weak to do the same can keep paying all those taxes and keep dying young. If the report has any truth in it (and remember it was funded by a tobacco company) then why should the non-smoking majority care? Now, if they'd only ban smoking in public places I'd be even happier.
Van Martin, England
The tobacco companies produce a product from a plant. The product cannot sell itself, it is purchased by people. Therefore, if people would stop buying the products, the tobacco companies would not continue to manufacture tobacco products. The arguments for/against the tobacco industry can be applied to many other products such as automobiles, alcohol, and some medicines. The rage appears to be centred on the monies collected by the manufacture of tobacco products and how the masses can get a portion of it for themselves.
The report is completely false, regardless of which way you view it. In the grand scheme of things, $147m is nothing in comparison to how much smoking COSTS the NHS. Smoking causes/aggravates somewhere in the region of 400 different health problems, all of which require some form of treatment, from antibiotics to cancer drugs. Given this fact, tobacco companies should be making compulsory contributions to every country's health service, not trying to justify killing people.
If tobacco companies must justify themselves, then so must car manufacturers, alcohol producers, fuel producers etc. If somebody wants to smoke it is their choice and has nothing to do with us. It's about time that people shut up and got on with their own lives rather than going round subjecting people to moral do gooders. Nobody should have to justify any of their personal behaviour.
I'm amazed with the assumptions this report has made. How do you know that a 30-year-old dying from smoking-related cancer is 'profitable' for society? What is the value of a young person? It's obvious that they don't care about human life. They only want the money.
Surely if cigarette smoking is now firmly linked with many types of cancer (and subsequent costly treatment), then it must be in every country's interest to constantly try and discourage people from taking up smoking and condemning generation after generation to ill health and in many cases terminal cancers. To have a populace that is generally healthy and productive is far better for all concerned.
Simon, English in Germany
It's all down to natural selection and survival of the fittest isn't it? It's just that the tobacco companies are speeding up the process a bit. People who are weak-minded and go along with marketing and peer pressure smoke and kill themselves off. Those who have will power and any sense don't smoke and they live longer.
Is Philip Morris really trying to legitimise
what they do? It really is little
more than a mass marketed chemical
cull, and as such is predatory and disgusting.
Excellent! I think it's a very good idea, this report from Philip Morris! Maybe it will finally show smokers how they're thought of when these cigarette companies do their figures! They expect them to die using their products, and their deaths are used as a statistic in their number crunching!
When tobacco companies denied the links between smoking and cancer, they were lambasted. When they come out and admit it and point out the obvious, that people die early, they are again vilified. Those poor tobacco companies. Have some sympathy! And all the unfortunate smokers, dying so prematurely. I'd rather live to a ripe old age and see my savings and dignity eaten away by an inadequate health system as I die a drawn out death. I'll always find something or someone to blame.
It's pointless being emotional about this sort of report. The fact is that longer lives are giving governments a lot to worry about. Only thirty years ago, men lived to 67 - only 2 years of pension. Now the average is heading towards 80. The extra cost of that survival is huge. Nor can you ignore the fact that fags are a major cash supplier for HM Government.
Don't blame the tobacco companies for pointing out what the governments have known all along. It is, after all, the government that makes the most profit from cigarettes and decides on their widespread legality. Smoking makes economic (if not political) sense for the government and you won't see cigarettes banned until that changes.
There may be fewer people claiming pensions, but what about those who are being treated for lung cancer as a result of smoking? Are Philip Morris also claiming to be doing a service to the world through knowingly causing the deaths in those 'statistics'?
As a concerned parent, I only take my children to places which are non-smoking. Restaurants which have a non-smoking area are a joke. Similar to California, I believe that smoking should be prohibited in all public places, but perhaps a first step would be to add a substantial tax bill to any establishments that allow smoking.
The science of health economics often leads to bizarre conclusions. One of these is that death is a cost-effective outcome. If everyone dropped down dead in the street rather than suffered prolonged ill health, it would save the NHS millions. However, the moral and ethical dimensions of healthcare are completely ignored by this view. Doctors encourage smoking cessation, exercise and a healthy diet to prolong healthy life. The cynicism of tobacco companies knows no bounds and this admission should waken up smokers seduced by the glossy advertising. I can see the new ad - "Smoke yourself to an early grave - save the NHS money".
I am pleased that this subject has been bought up. Old people are a drain on resource and unless they have independent means and contribute to society why should the state support them? Puff away with abandon please! And whilst we are on the subject, I would like to see a little less education on diet and more encouragement of the lower classes to eat more fat and drink more booze. There should be an extra cigarette, fat and alcohol credit when you are on social security! Making petrol lead free, now that was a.........
How many board members of tobacco companies smoke? And why might that be?
Having worked in the Czech Republic, this sort of report does not surprise me. Non-smokers are a minority in a country where everybody smokes, and which is a major market for cigarette manufacturers. Tobacco advertising is everywhere and many choose to associate themselves with smoking by displaying branded merchandise. Also Philip Morris have a major manufacturing plant in the Czech Republic at Kutna Hora. Given that the Czech Republic is a major market for Philip Morris and that the government does not want to increase expenditure, and threaten its popularity with anti-smoking intiatives - and potentially risk Philip Morris' investment in the country - it is hardly surprising that they have come to this conclusion. As always there are lies, damn lies and statistics...
Andy, Notts, UK
By the same logic, euthanasia is equally economically beneficial. Presumably so is promoting inadequate heating and poor diets, reducing road-safety measures etc, etc. Basically, promoting (or not discouraging) any activity which kills part of the population is therefore by definition, economically beneficial.
Doesn't this report demonstrate much of what is wrong with our multi-national dominated world? Here is a report which doesn't look at the long-term harm smoking does to individuals, or the emotional pain and suffering caused to families and friends watching loved ones die horribly of smoking related illnesses, but gets right down to the bottom line - money!
Ben Hammond, UK
I am a non-smoker but I am a firm believer in freedom of choice. If people want to smoke themselves into an early grave, it is up to them. I know that if I go clubbing or a restaurant, there is a chance I may encounter a few smokers. Quite frankly, if people don't like it, they should stay in every night with their air purifier. As for the economic link from people dying from smoking, this is one of many. Driving, flying, and drugs and many more also cause deaths. Where do we stop? I think we should focus on what is not legal, like drugs. But as always, there are some people who will not be happy until we all stay in every night wrapped in cotton wool! Get a life!
So, John K thinks there 'is nothing wrong' with reporting these facts. I think there is a lot wrong when the figures are being used to sell more cigarettes to people. Freedom of information is one thing, the multi-million pound market drive by tobacco companies is another. One only has to see the number of poisonous and carcinogenic chemicals added to cigarettes to make them more addictive to see that this is a public interest issue.
The fact that premature deaths from smokers save money for the nation has long been known. Smokers contribute more in the way of taxes than it costs to treat the resultant illness. The reduced revenue from income tax is off set by the pay out in pensions. I'm neither pro or against smoking but I see nothing wrong with a report that looks at the cold reality of the smoking industry in relation to a country's fiscal health.
Freedom to choose is all well and good, but non-smokers don't get a choice when breathing in contaminated air in pubs and restaurants.
17 Jul 01 | Americas
Smoking is cost-effective, says report
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