Adam Smith Institute on plain packaging

February 27th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Christopher Snowdon from the Adam Smith Institute blogs on the push for plain packaging the the UK:

The coalition of state-funded anti- groups have started revving up their trusty public relations machine for yet another legislative campaign. While their temperance counterparts concentrate on minimum pricing, the anti-tobacco lobby has its heart set on ‘plain packaging’.  …

It is one thing to force a manufacturer to label a product with a warning, but quite another to confiscate the packaging in its entirety to create public propaganda from private property. Rather than helping people make informed decisions, it seems that the overriding goal of plain packaging is to annoy the tobacco industry, inconvenience retailers and stigmatise consumers. Few of us will feel especially sympathetic towards the cigarette companies, but hard cases make bad law and the senseless trampling on property rights, along with the likelihood that the temperance lobby and diet police will emulate the anti-smoking trailblazers (as ever), has implications that go far beyond tobacco.

That is my concern. Already some in the temperance lobby are pushing for all beer and wine to have nothing on its label except required factual information. So if they get plain packaging for cigarettes, then the push will be for beer and wine also to follow suit, and then of course food that is disapproved of.

Secondly, there are sound consequentialist grounds to oppose the policy. There is no evidence whatsoever that the sight of a cigarette pack encourages nonsmokers to take up a notoriously unhealthy habit, and even ASH do not claim that it will have any effect on existing smokers. Numerous focus groups, including ASH’s own “citizen’s jury”, have expressed profound scepticism about the prospects of plain packaging lowering the smoking rate. 

There are a number of initiatives that could well reduce smoking rates, but I tend to agree that plain packaging is not one of them. I doubt it would stop a single person from smoking.

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44 Responses to “Adam Smith Institute on plain packaging”

  1. KH (694 comments) says:

    If plain packaging won’t reduce smoking rates. Why is it that tobacco companies don’t do that now. It would be very economical for them, with no loss of sales, according to DPF ??

    [DPF: Have you never heard of brands? Surely you're not as stupid as you pretend to be]

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  2. ben (2,418 comments) says:

    Wait, why is reducing smoking a desirable goal for public policy? Smokers over-estimate the dangers of smoking. And smokers more than pay for the health care costs their habit imposes through the very high taxes they pay. The only available conclusion is that smokers smoke because they have judged the benefits as outweighing the costs to them. Public policy which continues to stigmatise and marginalise people who make this choice is quite simply an abuse of power.

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  3. david (2,571 comments) says:

    KH you would have a point if it was irrelevant to the tobacco companies which of their products the idiot consumer wanted to kill themselves with. It isn’t so you don’t.

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  4. ben (2,418 comments) says:

    KH: because its their property, not yours or anyone else’s, and giving in to the nutters in the Ministry of Health and the activists won’t buy sanity on everything else they want.

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  5. Cunningham (836 comments) says:

    It might not stop current users but it could stop future users. I used to smoke when I was young (at school) and I found the packaging part of the appeal. I felt like a bit of a legend pulling out my malborough cigarettes (or my drum roll your owns) over a few beers when I was at parties. Of course I probably looked like a complete twat but if the packaging was plain I might not have even started. When you are young the image is more important then the actual smoking. Maybe it was just me….

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  6. Weihana (4,496 comments) says:

    If it doesn’t stop anyone from smoking then why do the cigarette companies care? If packaging doesn’t matter then why do companies go to great lengths to choose the right packaging for their product? Coca-cola goes so far as to protect the shape of their bottle. Why, if packaging doesn’t influence the decision to purchase?

    Although I suppose the difference with cigarettes is that they don’t need special packaging since the product itself is addictive enough. But government enforced plain packaging could have an effect and that is to highlight the fact that the product is unsafe and for that reason the packaging is regulated by the government. I agree it could stigmatize smokers and that is the point.

    I’m all for a smoker’s right to smoke. I don’t think tobacco should be banned. But that doesn’t mean they have a right to feel good about their smoking habit and given that cigarette smoking is generally not a drug consumed in moderation and has significant harmful effects then it seems reasonable to me for the government to regulate its sale in such a way as to discourage use.

    I support the legalization of cannabis but I would also support plain packaging for cannabis as well and I think cannabis is capable of moderate use far more so than tobacco.

    As for the “thin end of the wedge” argument I fail to see how people can make that argument unless they also support full individual liberty in all areas of product consumption. If we accept that methamphetamine, for instance, should be banned (not that I do) then obviously we must concede that prohibition/regulation of unsafe products is a judgment call and therefore each case deserves looking at on its own merits. So given that unhealthy foods are not addictive in the way that cigarettes are, then it is not reasonable in my view to prevent marketing of those products whereas in the case of cigarettes there is more of an argument for plain packaging.

    I’m not saying it will definitely work but I don’t see the harm in trying. Also they shouldn’t use the disgusting pictures, like the eyeball, on cigarette packaging. Ironically I’ve seen for many smokers it has the opposite effect and smokers choose a favourite disgusting picture and try to get packets with their preferred disgusting image on it. If I was designing a government approved packet I would have it entirely plain white with “smoking kills” at the top, health information on the back, and the only other text would be to identify different types of cigarette such menthol.

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  7. DJP6-25 (1,355 comments) says:

    It’s not about health. It’s about power, as ever.

    cheers

    David Prosser

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  8. Andrei (2,545 comments) says:

    Ah the hypocrisy of the ruling elite at its finest.

    Smoking a vice of the poor is taxed and the urban middle class feel good and virtuous about the “public good”

    Sodomy a vice of a favoured minority of the middle class is protected and even promoted despite its public health risks and costs.

    You either say smoking is bad and ban it like other drugs or you leave it and smokers alone.

    This whole thing is just nanny stateism.

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  9. Put it away (2,888 comments) says:

    Weihana, david at 2:16 already answered your question. Why does coke protect their bottle design? To stop every random soft drink company from ripping it off to reduce coke’s market share. Bit obvious really.

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  10. Griff (7,270 comments) says:

    Griff Says:
    gd
    lest it get caught in the background whine

    If you look at the massive amounts of tax generated by tobacco and the move towards prohibition communicating with the tobacco industry is a must.
    So not content to wage futile wars on drugs you are going to add reason for the black market to funnel funds out of “The Gumint”.
    And into the hands of those not to honest as to take part in correcting this price imbalance.
    Tax the hell out of it but at some stage the social costs of such policies will inevitable arise.

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  11. kowtow (8,173 comments) says:

    Cannabis doesn’t come attractively packaged but seems to have a huge attraction to young and the plonkers who never grew up.

    The anti tobacco campaign is just a small part of the “we now know we can modify human behaviour”philosophy being taken up by once liberal western governments. (liberal in the old sense of the word)

    It started with drink driving in the UK ,then seat belts ,now it’s tobacco and alcohol.
    There are clear signs that diet is being targetted and as we all know “global warming” is also a pretext to tell us what to do,how and for how long.
    Remember light bulbs and showers folks?

    While I personally don’t like cigarettes I hate this urge of government to control.

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  12. Ryan Sproull (7,093 comments) says:

    If it doesn’t stop anyone from smoking then why do the cigarette companies care?

    Weihana, cigarette companies do not just want people to smoke; they want them to smoke their brand.

    Brand marketing for tobacco is clever business. They use CRM strategies based on demographics to transition smokers from “younger” brands to “older” brands. In other words, as a known smoker reaches a recognised point of transition from young brands (B&H in New Zealand, for example) to an older brand (perhaps Rothman’s), they target those smokers with advertising to ensure that when they move from the younger brand to the older brand, it’s to their older brand.

    This is in countries with less strict tobacco ad regulation than New Zealand has.

    Plain packaging would remove most of the efficacy of brand loyalty. Smokers mostly don’t actually care that much about the taste of cigarettes – there may be some minor preference, but most can’t tell much from a blind taste test. They just want smokes. Take away the packaging and probably there’ll be a shift towards the cheaper brands, because your Davidoff smoker’s not going to be picking between Davidoff and Marlboro; he’ll be picking between $16 for a pack and $19.50 for a pack.

    Which is presumably why anti-smoking campaigners want plain packaging. Take away the branding and there’s one fewer illusion obscuring the fact that smokers are, for the most part, simply paying money for nicotine.

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  13. Scott Chris (6,018 comments) says:

    Oh no. Andrei wants to tax sodomy. Gays will have to shove a meter up their asses.
    _________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Regarding plain packaging – I think it’s worth a crack. Try it out and see if it works. What right do tobacco companies (or any other company for that matter) have to promote something harmful? Free speech is fine provided it causes no substantial harm.

    Don’t think health warnings work either:

    http://26.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_kprt78Vgot1qzgue6o1_400.jpg

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  14. Put it away (2,888 comments) says:

    Best way to discourage young people from smoking would be adverts doing a tour of any typical mental institution or halfway house filled with grubby old uncool losers who pretty much all smoke.

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  15. Weihana (4,496 comments) says:

    # Put it away (2,386) Says:
    February 27th, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    Weihana, david at 2:16 already answered your question. Why does coke protect their bottle design? To stop every random soft drink company from ripping it off to reduce coke’s market share. Bit obvious really.

    Protecting the market share of any particular tobacco company seems hardly important and I support regulating packaging in an effort to influence public perception of tobacco consumption. If it doesn’t work nothing has been lost.

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  16. Kimble (4,443 comments) says:

    Removing the branding is likely to have the opposite of the desired effect.*

    Brand differentiation is vital for price differentiation. Plain packaging is identified with lower quality and lower price. Just look at clean skins in wine shops, and no-frills brands in supermarkets. So the brand is used to justify a higher price. Remove the branding and you remove that distinction. The price of cigarettes would fall. Increasing their consumption.**

    Should plan packaging become law, I suggest that tobacco companies make their packaging transparent (whats more plain than invisible), and instead brand their cigarettes.

    * Doesnt it seem as if this ALWAYS happens?

    ** I am not sure it would increase consumption, but I reckon it is fair to state the case this way given that the other side of the argument consistently uses price sensitivity as a justification for anti-smoking policies that increase the price.

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  17. Weihana (4,496 comments) says:

    Andrei (1,197) Says:
    February 27th, 2012 at 2:33 pm


    Ah the hypocrisy of the ruling elite at its finest.

    This whole thing is just nanny stateism.

    Yet we outlaw cannabis and other drugs and somehow there are few cries of “nanny state”.

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  18. Kimble (4,443 comments) says:

    What right do tobacco companies (or any other company for that matter) have to promote something harmful?

    Argument applicable to: food vendors, television sellers, car companies, airlines, paint manufacturers, beer brewers, high-rise builders, chiropractors, chemotherapists, the clergy….

    They dont have a right to promote something harmful. That is, there is not an explicit right to do so. It relies on your personal opinion on what is harmful. You are, in effect, saying “they dont have a right to do something I dont think they should”.

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  19. Kimble (4,443 comments) says:

    Yet we outlaw cannabis and other drugs and somehow there are few cries of “nanny state”.

    As Kim Jong Il once said, “Goddamn it, open your fucking ears.”

    There are a cacophony of cries of “nanny state” when discussing our current arbitrary drug policy.

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  20. Weihana (4,496 comments) says:

    Kimble,


    So the brand is used to justify a higher price. Remove the branding and you remove that distinction. The price of cigarettes would fall. Increasing their consumption.**

    If a person is spending more than necessary to buy a brand then it is untenable to argue that such price differentiation serves as a disincentive to consumption. Tax on the other hand raises the minimum purchase price of any cigarette which would therefore mean its likely to have an effect on consumption.


    Should plan packaging become law, I suggest that tobacco companies make their packaging transparent (whats more plain than invisible), and instead brand their cigarettes.

    That could easily be avoided by mandating a particular packaging. Transparent packaging would not be permitted.

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  21. Weihana (4,496 comments) says:

    Kimble,

    heh, true I was thinking particularly of Andrei and others of a similar political disposition. Indeed I am one of those who cry nanny state all the time in regards drug policy.

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  22. Weihana (4,496 comments) says:

    # Kimble (3,043) Says:
    February 27th, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    What right do tobacco companies (or any other company for that matter) have to promote something harmful?

    Argument applicable to: food vendors, television sellers, car companies, airlines, paint manufacturers, beer brewers, high-rise builders, chiropractors, chemotherapists, the clergy….

    They dont have a right to promote something harmful. That is, there is not an explicit right to do so. It relies on your personal opinion on what is harmful. You are, in effect, saying “they dont have a right to do something I dont think they should”.

    Problem is that speech needs to be restricted when it harms others. We cannot simply permit all speech because we do not want to employ sound judgment to determine the limits of speech in regards to specific cases. Fact is a pretty sound argument can be made that tobacco is harmful and that its addictive nature at least to some degree removes the consumers “choice”. They purchase because they are addicted not because they truly want to. So restricting the ability to market such products seems a reasonable counterweight to such harm.

    However, commercial speech should be distinguished from pure advocacy, i.e. someone advocating that people should smoke. That shouldn’t be regulated or restricted at all.

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  23. Griff (7,270 comments) says:

    Reputable science tells us that the impact of cannibals is realistically benign to that damage that alcohol causes.
    Most studies indicate that the level of impairment of Cannabis user is the equivalent of one standard drink.
    I am tolerant as to the availability of alcohol So long it includes honest dialogue as to its effects on society and these effects are compared to other drugs that we tolerate.
    To disconnect branding from the sale of tobacco is a step to far on the road to limiting the effect of this evil.
    It begins to steps into the realm of control for control sake Smokers pay more than enough tax to pay their long trem health costs, any more and it is a distortion of user pays and the refuge of the conservative right and left .

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  24. Scott Chris (6,018 comments) says:

    Kimble says:- “It relies on your personal opinion on what is harmful”

    Like anything else the harm something causes as well as its benefits can be objectively measured.

    The flaw in the libertarian ideal of completely free speech lies in its assumption that all choosers are fairly well informed. Most aren’t so their choice isn’t really free. (and that is ignoring factors such as addictiveness)

    One could also argue that by insisting on plain packaging, the consumer is freer to make an objective selection based on how the cigarette actually smokes and tastes rather than on how it looks.

    On the other hand, the prohibition of illegal drugs does impinge upon our freedom to choose our poison, but at the same time, I wouldn’t want to see crystal meth glamourized either.

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  25. Kimble (4,443 comments) says:

    The flaw in the libertarian ideal of completely free speech lies in its assumption that all choosers are fairly well informed.

    So you are saying that the problem is education? Then the attack on the producers is simply to make up for the ineptitude of the educators? Unfortunately, given the years of advertising, I dont think a single smoker in NZ will not know that it is bad for them. Not one.

    You are simply using the unsellable education deficit idea in place of the less palatable “people are too stupid to agree with me” idea.

    One could also argue that by insisting on plain packaging, the consumer is freer to make an objective selection based on how the cigarette actually smokes and tastes rather than on how it looks.

    And implicit in that statement is the assumption that you know better than the individual what factors that individual SHOULD be considering when choosing their brand. You have gone from being the Grand Expert on what constitutes harm, to being the Grand Expert on the very factors an individual should consider when making personal consumption choices.

    “We are making you freer by removing your alternatives” is the sort of double-speak that should have died with the Soviet Union.

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  26. Kimble (4,443 comments) says:

    Problem is that speech needs to be restricted when it harms others.

    Then shouldnt you prove that the speech is harmful? Or that the prevention of that free speech would lead to less harm?

    And in the interests of protecting free speech, shouldnt the burden of proof be quite heavy?

    The argument “why not give it a go, what harm could it do?” cheapens the principle, and weakens the right.

    You might as well be saying, why not restrict the right to a fair trial? Just for a little while. Just to see if it works?

    Why not take away the property rights of this group of people? It might work.

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  27. Put it away (2,888 comments) says:

    Griff – “cannibals”???

    Yet another leftist proving why spellcheck is a poor substitute for literacy.

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  28. Griff (7,270 comments) says:

    You think that ones a howler
    try typing in fuckwits for some unknown reason it gives kiwifruit

    It is unfortunate that a minority group is discounted by not their reasoning but by their functional illiteracy.
    If any one was to be a converse in my missives on this blog they would note that punctuation spelling capitalization and sentience structure are lacking.
    There is a reason for this I do not think it is valid information for this debate or any. or has any relevance as to my reasoning. Its is just a handicap to communication that I work within.
    Read my posts today am I a Lefty or a liberal?

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  29. Griff (7,270 comments) says:

    That was to gruff.
    :wink: :lol:

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  30. Mary Rose (393 comments) says:

    Once someone has taken the decision to buy that second or third packet, or however few it takes to get hooked, they’re addicted anyway and don’t care what’s on the packaging.
    So changing the packaging would, if it influenced anyone, only affect the person buying their first ever packet.

    And education is really passing some people by if they don’t know smoking is bad for you.
    People starting out know, they just choose to ignore it, or (being youngsters, whose brains are wired to under-perceive risks) think cancer and heart disease are old people’s illnesses and nothing to worry about).

    I’m all for laws that stop smokers forcing their disgusting habit literally down my throat, while also making my clothes stink.
    Beyond that, as long as you make sure everyone is aware of the harm it does, then you either have to ban smoking outright or leave informed people to make their own bad choices.

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  31. wat dabney (3,755 comments) says:

    The flaw in the libertarian ideal of completely free speech lies in its assumption that all choosers are fairly well informed.

    And the flaw in statist thinking is to imagine that the state could possibly make our choices for us, knowing as it does absolutely nothing of our highly individual needs, preferences and priorities, and the various trade-offs we’re willing to make.

    Different people make different choices. How is your one-size-fits-all state coercion supposed to be an improvement?

    The assumption of Libertarians is that people are adults who can make their own choices. The (necessary) assumption of statists is that we’re all too stupid so it becomes the duty of people like you to run our lives for us.

    The logical conclusion of your position is that we’re too stupid to be allowed a vote.

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  32. Put it away (2,888 comments) says:

    So how come all the people who claim that making drugs illegal just enhances their appeal as “forbidden fruit” are all in favour of turning tobacco into the drug that dare not speak its name?

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  33. exile (34 comments) says:

    I think that they should remove cigarette branding altogether. Just as a smoker ‘prefers’ packets with a particular disease warning, let the tobacco companies bid for the rights to a particular disease at auction. That disease, along with appropriate Ministry of Health supplied artwork can be the entirety of their ‘brand’.

    This would provide an additional revenue stream for health services, and allow tobacco companies to return to sponsorship of sport and community organizations.

    Lung Cancer 25s, or a soft pack of Throat Cancer Reds?

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  34. mikenmild (11,246 comments) says:

    They’ll make great collectables for future generations, like advertisements for ‘cocaine drops’ toothache remedies.

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  35. simonway (381 comments) says:

    If some tobacco companies don’t want plain packaging because they’re afraid they’ll lose market share in spite of total smoking rates staying the same, wouldn’t any tobacco company with less than (1/n) share of the market, where n is the number of competitors, be in favour of plain packaging? After all, they would stand to make more money.

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  36. Monique Watson (1,062 comments) says:

    Cigarettes kill many and addict all that try them. Any advertising spreads their use like wildfire. It spreads their use primarily through poorer communities; as education ,the natural antidote to high use of drugs is weak in poorer communities. Beer and wine doesn’t necessarily kill or have such high addiction rates.

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  37. Scott Chris (6,018 comments) says:

    wat dabney says:- “And the flaw in statist thinking is to imagine that the state could possibly make our choices for us”

    The mistake you make is thinking in extremes fueled by an almost religious fervour for your libertarian ideology. Liberals are not statists. They aspire to uphold *everybody’s* freedom, not just the freedom of those who make the best choices. This inevitably requires the government to act as a moral arbiter to deal with the inevitable conflicts of interest that arise.

    Of course the holy grail is perfect autonomy but that can only come about when everyone has the same respect for others rights as they do for their own.

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  38. Weihana (4,496 comments) says:

    Kimble (3,045) Says:
    February 27th, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    Problem is that speech needs to be restricted when it harms others.

    Then shouldnt you prove that the speech is harmful? Or that the prevention of that free speech would lead to less harm?

    And in the interests of protecting free speech, shouldnt the burden of proof be quite heavy?

    Given that the speech is commercial speech, i.e. its purpose is to propose a tranasaction, and given that the proposed transaction in this case is demonstrably harmful then that would seem enough to establish the government’s legitimate interest in regulating marketing and advertising in respect of such transactions.

    Alternatively we could have a different solution: outlaw tobacco supply by private companies and have the government control supply and thereby have the right to regulate its marketing absolutely. Viola, no one’s freedom of speech is infringed. :)

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  39. swan (659 comments) says:

    “The flaw in the libertarian ideal of completely free speech lies in its assumption that all choosers are fairly well informed. Most aren’t so their choice isn’t really free. (and that is ignoring factors such as addictiveness)”

    Two points:

    1) Isn’t the best policy response going to be public awareness campaigns?

    2) People have a choice as to how much research and information they gather prior to making a consumption desicion. The fact that someone does not do as much research as you would like is their own free choice.

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  40. Kimble (4,443 comments) says:

    The fact that someone does not do as much research as you would like is their own free choice.

    Actually, in Scott’s world the fact they didnt do as much research (or were too stupid to understand it) means they have forfeited their right to determine their own actions. He knows the costs AND the benefits AND the proper factors to consider before consumption. Why should your ignorance trump his expertise?

    He has no compunctions about telling others what they should be doing, what they should be deciding. I dont think he really believes anyone else has the right to self determination. The fact you want to do something he doesnt think you should do is proof enough that you do not have the capacity to make that decision.

    He dresses it up, but essentially thats all it boils down to.

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  41. Kimble (4,443 comments) says:

    … given that the proposed transaction in this case is demonstrably harmful then that would seem enough to establish the government’s legitimate interest in regulating marketing and advertising in respect of such transactions.

    Do you realise that in this response you are justifying ANY action by the government involving anything described as a commercial transaction?

    The fact there is harm from smoking doesnt award the government a free pass on suppressing freedom of speech. The ONLY way it is justified is if the suppression of free speech REDUCES the harm.

    If you value free speech highly, then actions suppressing it would have to stand a very good chance of working. Setting the bar low, saying “meh, lets give it a go, it MIGHT work afterall”, reveals a very low value being placed on the right to free speech.

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  42. Kimble (4,443 comments) says:

    Alternatively we could have a different solution: make sure people have access to the knowledge that smoking is harmful to their health, recover enough in taxes to ensure they are paying the costs of their use of socialised healthcare, then leave it up to them to decide if they want to smoke.

    I believe it was Shang Tsung who said, “What fucking business is it of yours if I smoke or not, answer me that, you nosey cunt? How would you like it if I interfered in something you enjoyed just because I reckoned you were sucking it too hard?”

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  43. The Scorned (719 comments) says:

    The flaw in the libertarian ideal of completely free speech lies in its assumption that all choosers are fairly well informed. Most aren’t so their choice isn’t really free. (and that is ignoring factors such as addictiveness).

    Where did this “perfect knowledge” myth BS come from? Another straw-men lefty creation. Libertarians have never claimed a need for perfect knowledge as such a thing is 1) not required for ones use of ones rights to act in ones self interested pursuit of happiness and 2) An impossibility anyway so redundant as an argument.

    Scott Chris is a busy boding little fascist and can just keep his nose out of my choices as they don’t concern him… unless the state makes him fund them via taxation and then the answer is not to restrict my liberty but to dissolve the bloated and interfering state down to its core rights protecting function.

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  44. Kimble (4,443 comments) says:

    The Scorned, the assumption of Perfect Knowledge is valid when combined with the assumption that your goal is to ensure everybody leads their life in accordance with your personal criteria.

    To Scott’s mind, libertarianism doesnt work because not everyone has the information required to come to the conclusion he supports, as evidenced by the fact that they reach other conclusions.

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