Better Democracy NZ is a non-partisan, non-profit organisation.

Our mission is to foster the improvement of New Zealand's democratic system and encourage the use of direct democracy through the

Veto, Citizens' Initiated and Recall referendum.


Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Is it democratic to ban smoking?

Interesting NZH story by Matt McCarten.

Matt McCarten: It's time to snuff out capitalism's worst offender
4:00AM Sunday Mar 22, 2009
By Matt McCarten

A mate of mine recently died from lung cancer. He was a heavy smoker. After taking up the tobacco drug as a teenager to be cool, he never stopped and the addiction killed him. We've heard the story many times.

Years from now, our descendants will marvel how our society believed in free enterprise to the point they legally permitted international corporations to hook young kids on to a product everyone knew killed half of them.

We legally allowed these corporations to add a drug to deliberately make addicts of their customers. Their cravings enable these faceless profiteers to rake in umpteen thousands of dollars off each victim until they died.

Unlicensed drug pushers who peddle similar products have the full weight of the state hunting them down. When they are apprehended they are imprisoned. In some countries some of these entrepreneurs are sent to the gallows.

I have sympathy for some of these other providers of death when they claim some of the drug products on the market are less addictive and harmful than cigarettes.

I've never heard a convincing argument as to the benefit of smoking. We all know it kills its customers, yet it's regarded as a normal business delivering to a market.

It should shock us that these tobacco merchants send 5000 New Zealanders each year to hospitals, mostly publicly funded, to die in pain. That's a hundred families a week that have one of their dearest snuffed out.

The tobacco industry justifies this activity as a matter of a free choice by their addicts ... sorry, their customers. As every parent knows, teenagers are image-conscious and it doesn't take much to hook many of them on to stuff that's not good for them. But unlike most of the goods marketed at teens, tobacco is the most sinister and lethal. Nicotine is deliberately loaded into tobacco with the sole purpose of acquiring an addict they can milk until the product finally kills them. Everybody in this trade knows it, and therefore is complicit in mass murder.

Even if we pretend to believe the lies that their customers willingly accept they will die from using their product, I've yet to hear them address their responsibility for two innocent people they kill each week. Yep, that's the poor suckers who just happened to breathe in someone else's cigarette smoke. In a sane legal system, the tobacco barons would be charged with homicide.

The other fib is that the taxes added on to their product cover the costs of the health services the state has to provide. It's an absurd situation where our politicians absolve any morality issues because the cigarette industry claims the taxes on cigarette packets more than pays the financial costs of the deaths and illness created by them. Even if that's true, which it's not, go figure the ethics of that argument.

One of the doosies of moral gymnastics was the cigarette industry's much heralded donation of $300,000 to the Keep New Zealand Beautiful organisation. That works out at $60 for each person they killed last year. I wonder what portion of the costs that we pay to clean up discarded empty cigarette packets and butts littered throughout our country that will cover. But then it's not about cleaning after them anyway. It's just public relations to make them look better.

It's consistent with their industry strategy of so-called social responsibility that promotes their compliance and support of legislation and controls. Any public relations like this donation is a facade to cover up the reality that they do everything they can to get around current restrictions. There has been evidence that retailers are being paid "rebates" to stock particular brands. This is actually illegal, but somehow they have us believe these are isolated cases.

But there are all sorts of rorts used to get around pesky restrictions on their trade. While they're not allowed to have advertising at the counter you can't miss the huge wall cabinet behind every dairy full of their poisons. After the Commerce Commission stopped them telling lies about their cigarette brands as "light' and "mild", they are now about to launch a new campaign around "smoke-free" cigarettes.

However, none of the arguments over cigarettes is about morality. It's just a business creating a market and then providing the goods for a profit.

Frankly, if our parliamentarians were consistent we'd let all forms of drugs, whether hard or soft, be packaged and sold. The costs of deaths and health services would be added as a tax on to the retail price in the same way as they are to tobacco. And no doubt drug pushers would argue that it's a matter of individual choice, in the same way our tobacco barons do.

I like to think it has dawned on most people that unfettered capitalism is just a form of gangsterism and is past its use-by date. You only have to look at what has happened in the United States to realise that even they now accept that doing business without morality is unsustainable.

There has to be a new conversation in our society on morality and capitalism. We could start with confronting the serious issue on why we allow corporations to legally make profits from a product that targets teenagers to kill them.


Anonymous said...

Flat out at the moment, but without even reading the article, I would say if an effort has been made to inform and educate people on the key concerns, perspectives, and ramifications, then a majority citizen vote should decide the issue.

Cheers Tom

Why is it so friggen hard to subscribe to a simple blog????

I have created an ID on Google, I have given my email address yet I can still only post as an Anonymous.

Does anybody try these blogs out from a user perspective??

Infuriating when you are in a hurry!!

Steve Baron said...

I too have a google ID and use it when posting a comment and have never had a problem. Perhaps you are using a different email address than the one you registered under or the wrong password? I don't know as it is nothing to do with the Better Democracy NZ system. You do still have the option of clicking on one of the other comment options, name/url and then you can put whatever name you like along with a link to your website if you like.

Steve Baron said...

But wouldn't that just be the tyranny of the majority forcing their will on a defenceless minority (smokers)?