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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.

Your reaction

Every restaurant or bar and public place I frequented was smoke free and no one was complaining

A. Bradley, USA/ UK
Regarding the comments from Bill: I am one of those "California types" you speak of. I am a non-smoker and lived in California for seven years. It was paradise for me. Every restaurant or bar and public place I frequented was smoke free and no one was complaining. And yes, I did drive my car to those places but I didn't back it up to the front door of those establishments and choke the patrons with my exhaust as you do with your smoke.
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.
Tony Osborne, UK

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.
Andy Trigg, England

If that doesn't motivate them to stop smoking, then let them carry on

Stephen, England
As a family doctor, I have been advising patients for many years to quit smoking for the sake of their health, but like other doctors I am aware that my efforts are relatively unlikely to succeed, especially with the young. For some years, instead of pleading with them to stop, I have grinned as I pointed out to them how much their smoking habit feeds the wallets of the people who run the highly profitable tobacco companies. People like Margaret Thatcher who advised Philip Morris and Kenneth Clarke who works with BAT. If that doesn't motivate them to stop smoking, then let them carry on.
Stephen, England

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.
Martin, UK

The question that I have never found an answer for is 'how does the cigarette advertising community sleep at night'?
Barry Askew, USA

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.
Chris, UK

It's all about choice and risk

Bill, Netherlands
Can I ask David whether or not he drives his children to those restaurants? I am sick of these Californian types who like to preach over smoking but are happy to pollute with their cars. I choose to smoke but I also choose not to own a car. It's all about choice and risk and each of us should be left to make our own decision. Why should I be polluted or have my children run over by those car owners out there, although it would save the government a lot on educating those children?
Bill, Netherlands

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?
Jim, UK

On a humanitarian level this is absolutely abhorrent

James Coyle, Wales/ UK
In a society where people can spend 30 years or more in retirement, it makes a perverse sense to kill them off rather than fund their pensions. However, on a humanitarian level this is absolutely abhorrent, in that it suggests that as soon as people become economically inactive they should be cut loose from society. However, smoking is an individual's choice, and when a person starts they are fully aware that they will be paying more in tax than will ever be spent on their healthcare - if you don't like it, don't smoke.
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.
Tim Weekes, UK

If one wants to smoke cigarettes smoke them, if not, don't. It isn't that difficult.
G. Nilsson, UK

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!
Clive Sheard, UK

I am amazed that any decent, self-respecting person can work in this industry and still get a good night's sleep

Nils Eriksson, Sweden
The logic of this report is insane. By the same argument we should stop all treatment for hypertension, stop performing coronary bypasses and abandon all mammography programmes. In fact, we should encourage voluntary suicide at 60. For those of us who have gone through the living hell of having close relatives and friends dying of smoking induced cancer, the cost of the tobacco industry is immeasurable. I am amazed that any decent, self-respecting person can work in this industry and still manage to get a good night's sleep.
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.
John Hirst, United Kingdom

The only problem is that people do not want to hear the crying truth

Asheber Yohannes, Slovakia
I see nothing wrong in the report. The only problem is that people do not want to hear the crying truth. There is no need for international campaigns against smoking at all. In fact, there is no addiction at all, but a lack of strong will. Look, many heavy smokers have quit their dear smoking habit overnight just as soon as they encountered serious health problems. They could have done so, if they had strong determination, at the early stage of their addiction. Smokers should be given the right to enjoy their puff as long as they wish to live. On the other side, natives of Africa, Asia, and South America do still enjoy their home-made cigarettes while their European and North American fellows are facing societal pressure. Let's allow everybody to live his own way.
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?
Dave Milne, Scotland

I'd like to thank Philip Morris for this report. It may have given me added incentive to quit smoking.
Chris D, USA

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.
Paul, UK

Am I in the Twilight Zone or what!

Van Martin, England
I hope that everyone is listening to what is being said. Philip Morris are saying that a quiet genocide can be argued as beneficial for the economic good of a country. Am I in the Twilight Zone or what! This is THE most ridiculous statement I have ever heard coming from big business, and if there were any steel in national government, charges of mass murder would be brought on the directors of the company. Please think, everyone, do not be so narrow minded as to try and justify the existence of a cancer-causing recreational product simply because we fear it may damage the economy. We as citizens are the most important thing on Earth - not big business or economics!
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.
Al Lee, USA

Countries are knowingly saving themselves money whilst heaping the blame on to the tobacco giants

Paul, UK
I would absolutely guarantee that this argument has come up behind closed and locked doors in government departments around the western world and that the verdicts have secretly been on a parallel with Philip Morris's. The countries are knowingly saving themselves money whilst tut tutting and heaping the blame on to the tobacco giants, but of course keeping cigarette smoking legal (and raking in a lot of tax as well). If they really wanted to stop disease caused by smoking, they could ban them or make the cigarette companies take the harmful substances out, but would that be cost effective?
Paul, UK

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.
Anna, UK

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.
David A, Nottingham, UK

People will smoke no matter what

Mike, Ireland
People have been smoking for longer than we care to remember and they aren't going to stop now that it's "suddenly" bad for your health. People will smoke no matter what. The argument exists; if tobacco is legal, why isn't pot? This is a logical argument but unlikely to be changed. All the government should concentrate on is educating people to the extent that they can make up their own mind about smoking.
Mike, Ireland

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.
Ioannis, UK

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.
Roy Kenyon, United Kingdom

Another example of the contempt that the tobacco companies have for their customers

Simon, English in Germany
I saw the Marlborough Cowboy, who I believe died of lung cancer, interviewed once. He recalled an incident when he asked the representatives from the tobacco company why they didn't smoke. They laughed at him and told him how smoking was only for the poor and the stupid. The thought of this helped me to give up, and the report to the Chilean government is just another example of the contempt that the tobacco companies have for their customers.
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.
Jon N, UK

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.
Peter Vincent, Scotland

Tobacco companies don't have to justify smoking

David, UK
Tobacco companies don't have to justify smoking. They engage in the legitimate sale of a product, and in doing so, contribute vast sums to the exchequer. It is nothing to do with anyone, particularly authoritarian and sanctimonious anti-smoking zealots, whether I choose to contribute to their profits or not.
David, UK

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!
Dave S, Ireland

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.
Paolo, UK

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.
Dr G A Hatcher, UK

It is an invalid means of justifying the existence of a product

Andy, UK
This is another of those crazy arguments like the one used by car manufacturers who don't fix a known fault as the cost of fixing it out-weighs the cost of paying any future lawsuits that might come as a result of the fault. I understand where they're coming from, but there's one thing missing in the discussion - that of moral responsibility to public health and safety. It is an invalid means of justifying the existence of a product - or to put it another way, the extermination of a particular set of people!
Andy, UK

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.
Russell, UK

I doubt that these statistics are worth the paper they are written on

Andrew, UK
I doubt that these statistics are worth the paper they are written on. People who smoke might be the sort of people who generally take less care of themselves anyway and so die younger, or they might be less prone to over-eating - due to the appetite suppressing nature of nicotine - and so live longer or they might be more prone to setting themselves on fire accidentally in bed and so die younger. The interpretation of the numbers depends on the assumptions you make and, given that it is a tobacco company making the assumptions, we should hardly be surprised at the result. I'm sure that, statistically, very few people die whilst wearing a saucepan on their head. This does not mean that not wearing a saucepan on your head will help you live longer.
Andrew, UK

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'?
Simon J King, UK

It is abhorrent that the permanent damage of non-smokers through passive smoking is allowed to continue

David, England
This is a prime example of governments filling their coffers instead of putting first the interests of the public. There is no defence to say that smoking is justifiable. The tobacco companies add to the cigarettes to make them addictive. It is abhorrent that the permanent damage of non-smokers through passive smoking is allowed to continue, especially to children whose parents are addicted. Why were Roy Castle's efforts ignored?

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.
David, England

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".
Dr Martin Toal, UK

This story is straight out of Viz - hilarious!

Will, UK
This story is straight out of Viz - hilarious!
Will, UK

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?
David Gatenby, Germany

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...
Nick, UK

This is absolutely ludicrous and outrageous!

Andy, Notts, UK
If you follow the same logic then we might as well go and place bombs in nurseries and save governments having to pay for children's state education; do the same with old people's homes etc! Are they really suggesting that they can promote a product that leads to premature death in many instances on the grounds that it provides more money for governments to spend on other areas, such as military, roads, tax cuts etc? This is absolutely ludicrous and outrageous!
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.
Colm Nugent, UK

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!
Keith Wright, Scotland

We will have to start treating ourselves as a resource just like any other

Ben Hammond, UK
This is an issue that will become ever more important in the next 20 years. Human life has always been considered sacrosanct and to be preserved at all costs; mankind has got to the stage when this is no longer adequate; we will have to start treating ourselves as a resource just like any other, and this must include clear and hard-headed direction upon when it is appropriate to attempt to preserve human life and when it is not. I see this report as the vanguard of this philosophy, the attitude should not be denounced; it is the only way to a sustainable future.
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!

I think the question should be how can the government justify smoking?

Steve, UK
I don't think the issue is for tobacco companies to justify smoking - I think the question should be how can the government justify smoking? If this was a new product just developed there is no way an activity that caused as much death and disease as smoking would ever be legalised, never mind justified.
Steve, UK

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.
Colin Moors, UK

Maybe the stark logic of this report will open the eyes of smokers to the reality of their addiction

Emma, UK
Maybe the stark logic of this report will open the eyes of smokers to the reality of their addiction. Of course they have the freedom to choose to smoke, and they have no excuse for not realising that it is a choice which leads to poor health and an early death.
Emma, UK

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.
John K, UK

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.
Paul Roffey, UK

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