Niagara Gazette

Local News

January 26, 2013

Do penalties for smokers and the obese make sense?

(Continued)

Niagara Gazette — Gottlieb's view is debatable. There are plenty of public health researchers that can show smoking control measures have brought down smoking rates and who will argue that smoking taxes are not regressive so long as money is earmarked for programs that help poor people quit smoking.

And debate they will. There always seems to be a fight whenever this kind of public health legislation comes up. And it's a fight that can go in all sorts of directions. For example, some studies even suggest that because smokers and obese people die sooner, they may actually cost society less than healthy people who live much longer and develop chronic conditions like Alzheimer's disease.

So let's return to the original question: Why provoke a backlash? If 1 in 5 U.S. adults smoke, and 1 in 3 are obese, why not just get off their backs and let them go on with their (probably shortened) lives?

Because it's not just about them, say some health economists, bioethicists and public health researchers.

"Your freedom is likely to be someone else's harm," said Daniel Callahan, senior research scholar at a bioethics think-tank, the Hastings Center.

Smoking has the most obvious impact. Studies have increasingly shown harm to nonsmokers who are unlucky enough to work or live around heavy smokers. And several studies have shown heart attacks and asthma attack rates fell in counties or cities that adopted big smoking bans.

"When you ban smoking in public places, you're protecting everyone's health, including and especially the nonsmoker," said S. Jay Olshansky, a professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago's School of Public Health.

It can be harder to make the same argument about soda-size restrictions or other legislative attempts to discourage excessive calorie consumption, Olshansky added.

"When you eat yourself to death, you're pretty much just harming yourself," he said.

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Do you think cigarette sales to non-Native American customers should be taxed on reservations?

Yes. Items should be taxed like they are everywhere else.
No, the indian reservations are sovereign land and they are selling them on their land.
Not up to me. Native Americans decide the rules on their land.
Don't care. Smoking isn't good for you.
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