The Ethics of Smoking
From the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention here are the current statistics about the prevalence of smoking cigarettes.
Current Cigarette Smoking
In 2007, the median prevalence of adult current smoking in the 50 states and DC was 19.8% Among states, current smoking prevalence was highest in Kentucky (28.3%), West Virginia (27.0%), and Oklahoma (25.8%); and lowest in Utah (11.7%), California (14.3%), and Connecticut (15.5%). Smoking prevalence was 8.7% in USVI, 12.2% in PR, and 31.1% in Guam. Median smoking prevalence among the 50 states and DC was 21.3% (range: 15.5%--28.8%) for men and 18.4% (range: 8.0%--27.8%) for women. Men had a significantly higher prevalence of smoking than women in 30 states, DC, and all three territories.
Trends in Cigarette Smoking
During 1998--2007, linear decreases were observed in 28 states, DC, and PR. Nonlinear trends were detected in 19 other states. Trends in smoking prevalence varied among these states; however, all had reached a peak prevalence before 2004 and then began to decrease. Among 16 of these 18 states, logistic regression models indicated that the prevalence decreased during 1998--2007; in the other two states no change in prevalence occurred. No change over time in smoking prevalence (quadratic or linear) was observed in Alabama, Arizona, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
The host of medical consequences of smoking is clear as can be read in the Executive Summary of the U.S. Surgeon General’s 2004 Report with studies showing damage to organs beyond the lungs and heart and the resultant personal impact in terms of chronic symptoms but also the personal and society-wide effect on productivity and medical time and financial expenditure. Further, there is the documented health effects of those exposed secondarily to a smoking environment.
The need for breaking the tobacco habit and reducing smoking within the United States is obvious. For years various approaches have been begun by the government, institutions and the medical system including ban on certain advertising, anti-smoking campaigns and public and patient education through the media and by the medical profession along with medical approaches to reduce the tobacco craving. As seen by the CDC statistics, there has been some improvement in reduction of smoking but has not reached hoped for goal of about 12%.
Now, what does ethics have to do with smoking? If smoking is a personal right and liberty, on what ethical argument can government restrict the citizen’s autonomy for smoking and for example restrict where a person can or can’t smoke? Autonomy can be preserved unless through the action of an individual there is potential harm to others. Philosopher Thaddus M. Pope has written a paper for the University of Pittsburg Law Review which dissects the ethics involved. If you are a smoker, how do you feel about the restrictions put on you on where you can smoke and which limit your autonomy to smoke? Do you think you should be “your brother’s keeper”?..Maurice.