The slippery slope is real


So, the playbook over the last 30-40 years or so: set minor policy changes every few years that work incrementally to de-normalise smoking and tobacco. Restrict use in some public places that seem like protection of non-smokers at first, then extend it outwards not to protect non-smokers, but to stigmatise smokers. Eventually smokers are so marginalised that a full ban becomes politically palatable. First you de-normalise, then further regulate, then ban. And, at every step, deny that the next step’s already planned. Until it’s too late to matter.

Now, if you follow alcohol policy, how often have you heard this one: “Alcohol is no ordinary commodity”? Or, that advertising, availability at some event, shops with visible signage, or brand sponsorship normalise alcohol consumption and so should be restricted or banned? There’s a lot of focus on making normal alcohol consumption not seem normal. There might be a reason for that.

A lot of these policy documents will draw the parallel to tobacco before claiming that, unlike in the case of tobacco, they’re just trying to hit heavy or harmful consumption and so full-on tobacco-style restrictions aren’t needed. But every year, we move further through the list of tobacco controls that the anti-alcohol folks want applied to alcohol too.

Richard Edwards’s post helps show that we’re not building strawmen when we warn about slippery slopes. There’s a direct mechanism in which each regulation makes the marginal political cost of the next one a bit smaller, helping to facilitate it. And there’s pretty clearly a planned effort to push through the incremental steps on the way to the end goals: each makes the next seem less radical. Slippery slopes are only logical fallacies if there aren’t these kinds of mechanisms. 

They want to ban smoking, ban sugar and inevitably ban alcohol. It is a , and we ignore it at our peril.

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