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Czechia opposes harsh anti-smoking EU policies

European health commissioner Tonio Borg (Malta) – who has been in this job just for one month – is behind the latest insanely harsh EU proposals to fight against the smokers. See e.g. The Guardian.

Horror-like pictures – such as the Australian graphics above – could become mandatory across the Old Continent. Flavored cigarettes – with menthol, vanilla, strawberries etc. – would also be banned, much like slim (and "natural" and "organic") cigarettes and much like packages with fewer than 20 cigarettes. That's no detail; for example, just slim and menthol cigarettes make 38% of cigarettes in Poland.

Also, it would be illegal to write "lite" at light brands of the cigarettes. In general, the firms' logos have to become almost invisible, too. Tobacco companies generally say it won't help, destroy the brands, and energize the black market.

I haven't smoked for 35 years and even before that, it was just half a breath after which I caughed ;-). But I still can't overlook that the justifications of these brutal policies are cherry-picked, indefensible, and just downright irrational. For example, Borg "justified" the flavor ban as follows:

If it's tobacco, it should look like tobacco and taste like tobacco.
The only problem is that menthol cigarettes aren't just tobacco. They're tobacco with menthol, a filter, and other things. Because the assumption of the proposition above isn't satisfied, the proposition is irrelevant for the real world. Well, if you look carefully, you will see that Borg's proposition is, to the extent that it is right, just a tautology. The truly valid underlying comment would be
It is looks like tobacco and tastes like tobacco (and a few other conditions), then it is tobacco.
You may consider this sentence to be an operational definition of tobacco or, in Bill Clinton's jargon, you may view this sentence as a definition of is, too. (You just have to add "If it smokes like tobacco and if it blows like tobacco" among the conditions, too.) Try to look at a different, analogous situation – a proposed law forcing the EU commissioners to look as what they are:
If it is an asshole, it should look, smell, and taste like an asshole.
The problem with the relevance of this proposition is that people such as Tomio Borg are not just the A-words. They are also trying to be politicians at the same moment. They're some bound states of various properties and entities, a compromise in between them. In fact, if we were lucky, the EU commissioners could resemble politicians more than the A-word in the future.

Quite generally, the philosophy behind all these bans is the desire to ban everything related to tobacco with no exceptions. That's why the policy tries to make it illegal to "bind" cigarettes with other things such as flavors, brands, types, selection, and so on. And that's why it wants to allow negative pictures only.

But the exclusively negative pictures completely misrepresent the actual balance of changes that the cigarettes bring to the smokers. Smokers usually smoke for very good reasons. They feel more free, relaxed, elegant, in charge of themselves. Most of the smokers just live the taste and flavor. To some extent, smoking even brings them some satisfaction as a form of a protest.

There are several motivations of this kind and be sure that the potential new smokers will learn about them whether or not the society hypocritically tries to turn these "positive words on smoking" into taboos. Such attempts to reduce the availability of the information to the youth is utterly naive.

Almost everyone knows that smoking probably reduces the life expectancy by several years. No one knows the exact figure. It's not enough to calculate the average age-at-death of smokers and non-smokers in a country because the actual difference between these two averages may be due to a completely different reason (a more genetic or socioeconomic one) that just happens to be systematically correlated with the smoking rate (note that correlation isn't causation; instead, both correlated quantities are likely to be effects of some common cause, a "third player").

If you order nations according to their life expectancy and their smoking rate, you will find out that there's no significant correlation between the percentage of smokers and the average life expectancy.

But even if everyone knew that smoking subtracted 5 or 10 years out of the average lifetime, and almost everyone believes it, anyway, most smokers would smoke nevertheless. Their cost-and-benefit analysis simply has some arguments on the opposite side as well and those often win.

I find the cigarette smoke somewhat annoying – and I also find it a bit annoying when it gets absorbed by clothes and survives. But it hasn't been a catastrophe for quite some time. There are other comparable annoyances and many greater annoyances. As a non-smoker, I actually find the horrifying graphics showing the diseases etc. to be more annoying than the cigarette smoke itself. One only walks around a newsstand, looks at some journals, and has to look at some of these vomit-making images? Why? What have I done to anyone?

Almost all smokers will decide to smoke, anyway. In addition to that, we will have some little kids scared by gloomy images at the tobacco shops, something they shouldn't have seen and, I think, something they have the right not to see.

Czech psychologists mostly believe that the logic behind the bans is crackpottery. For example, child psychiatrist Petr Pöthe thinks that the horrifying graphics won't repel teenagers. Their effect may actually be the opposite one:
Kids are not behaving as stupidly as adults often want to believe. Kids are thinking and they often have far more information at their disposal than the adults do. They are deciding according to various role models and attitudes. Something that is dangerous is, on the contrary, attractive for them. Health or their appearance in 15 years is something they don't care about at all.
This description wouldn't ever apply to me but I am confident that it's the right analysis of those typical teenagers who naturally become smokers. Dr Eva Králíková, a physician fighting tobacco addiction, disagrees and thinks that the graphic images may work.

Petr Pöthe above ultimately turns out to be a potential anti-smoking radical:
I doubt that we could measure in the lab that the kid is deciding according to the picture. Life works differently.

Primarily, we should struggle to be authentic. If we're saying it's a poison, it shouldn't be sold at all. It's wrong to sell something, get money from it, and to say that it's a poison at the same moment. This is an inconsistency that reduces the adult authorities' credibility among teenagers who may end up believing nothing that the adults say.
Dr Eva Králíková adds that a ban could be fine but it's impossible to ban something that a big portion of the population is addicted to. She outlines a decades-long struggle to eliminate smoking from the society.

I don't see much evidence that this is a realistic goal or a sensible expectation about a foreseeable future. And even if this goal could be achieved, I am afraid that it would be just one symptom of a highly manipulative, non-free society that may be under construction today. Sorry, I prefer a freer society with dozens of percent of smokers.

The prettiest public Christmas tree is one that decorates... of course, the royal town of Pilsen, Czech iDNES readers decided in a poll. Congratulations to us and Merry Christmas to you! :-)

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snail feedback (21) :

reader Shannon said...

Smokers are so unhealthy ;-) (warning: yuk)

reader Peter F. said...

I have a much less tolerant and more dictatorial attitude to the role of the tobacco industry within the market economy. 2 percent smokers of the total population might be acceptable to me - but only on the condition they'd be rounded up and forced to live in industrially polluted places only. ;-{

reader Gordon Wilson said...

If something other people are doing is harming others or interfering with their enjoyment of life, fine. But the loss of liberty and privacy we are headed towards is scary---
In the UK, there are CCTV cameras everywhere---they clone themselves like aphids. Apparently, in the US, the NSA is storing everything from everyone on enormous server "farms" waiting with bots to draw out info, letters etc on anyone the Sauron eye decides to look at.

I am against smoking, but I am more against the appalling trend of people minding other peoples' business. George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm were meant as cautionary tales, not political blueprints for a society.

reader Honza said...

Did they totally forgot to include on the packages that by burning tobacco you generate CO2 which contributes to global warming, which will fry the whole planet? Possibly because it would weaken the message by making people realize that global warming will get them sooner than the cancer would? ;-)

reader Gene Day said...

I don’t think the presence or omnipresence of cameras or of spying drones constitutes a problem in itself. If the information so gained is misused then it can be a problem, a huge problem.

There are surely crime-fighting benefits to these technologies but, unless our freedoms are assured by our institutions, we could find ourselves in trouble very quickly. I agree that it is scary but 1984 did not happen and that gives me some comfort. I don’t know where all this is headed but the world of the future is going to look very different from the world I have known.

We will have to be more careful to fend off the demagogs but we will have the tools to do that so I remain hopeful but cautious. I would certainly like to see a bit more caution by our European friends for they have had more than their share of demagogs. As always, we are fortunate to be separated from them by a very large ocean.

Free communication is the most vital thing. The internet is the new “press" and it must not be controlled by anyone. That freedom is worth fighting for.

reader sirernestbarker said...

It's a lie, analogous to "carbon dioxide emissions are causing global warming" that cigarette smoke CAUSES (not exacerbates) cancer, heart disease or any other malady. My wife and I have been smokers for 50 years and we are as healthy as oxen. Anecdotes prove nothing of course but the statistics are less less daunting than one presupposes. This used to be a country where people minded there own business. Moreover, correlation is not causation but try explaining all this to the stinky collection of sanctimonious busybodies, nervous fussbudgets, intrusive health nazis, and oily failures trying to impose their neuroses on the world. In the 50's and 60's, almost everybody smoked and those that didn't were always accommodating and tolerant enough to offer ashtrays etc. It is unbelievable to me that her (in Massachusetts and many other places) ADULTS cannot smoke a butt in A COCKTAIL LOUNGE. This drives me nuts and makes memore determined to continue the habit till the day I die.

reader Rezso said...

Completely off topic, but I heard that Weinberg wrote a new QM textbook.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Hi Rezso, I've been selling the book since October on this blog:

reader Gene Day said...

I have been retired for a dozen years but my experience strongly suggests that smoking does, in fact, cause lung cancer. Of the ten or so people that I have worked with most closely and admired the most, exactly half were cigarette smokers. Four of them died of lung cancer and the fifth has lung cancer and will die within weeks or months. These were all good people and I feel lucky to have known them. The five non-smokers are all alive and well.

I also have had at least ten relatives who smoked and the story is exactly the same. You may have survived so far but I would not issue you a life insurance policy.

I do agree that you should have the right to smoke anywhere you want so long as it does not endanger or discomfort others. I simply hold my breath when passing a smoker because of the stench.

reader Robert Rehbock said...

I smoked a pipe off and on until four years ago. I was required to have a smoke free home in order to adopt my parrot. Really ... And my wife never liked the smell after the courtship period. Although,y freedom was to me important, i really liked the bird and love the wife. The smell in clothes also increasingly offended the ever more sensitive sensibilities in our community. Our local government purported to make it illegal for me to smoke even in my own office. I own my business and I worked hard to have a private office and be able to put my feet up and enjoy a pipe. I could have kept smoking in my basement man cave and still please my wife and doubt that the parrot Gestapo would have tried to take back the bird.
But freedom and sanity aside i quit and after a few weeks rarely thought about it since. The many intrusions on freedom and privacy come almost always in guise of protection. My father escaped being eliminated by Hitler and so I am a little touchy when freedom everywhere is being taken by surveillance and prohibitions and ostracizing those who protest. He too smoked a pipe until his not too premature death at 94. The 1964 Surgeon General report that concluded what all already knew - that inhaling cigarette smoke does kill many. It also found an inverse relationship between moderate pipe smoking ( among puffers not inhaling the smoke) and mortality. So did a Swedish twins study. The reasons are unknown and no one will be likely funded in the now world to address this. I think that the science on second hand smoke is like that on global warming or other even less acceptable truths. The only truth is at which fits the answers that fit the political preferences.
I am thus not convinced by the political pseudo science regarding second hand smoke. Smoking offends and leaves lingering smell in cars, homes, clothes etc.. It is appropriate for the people offended by that to expect the smokers to spare them. All that requires is politeness. Perhaps, though, if health is the reason government everywhere bans cigarettes then it perhaps is time to make pipe smoking mandatory.
I will leave it with a story from my days in college. I then smoked in class as did many of my classmates. One day a friend played a practical joke on me when I left my tobacco pouch in my office cubicle. The rubber band shavings he snuck into my tobacco were not a good additive.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Gene, I have personally no doubt that smoking causes lung cancer much like driving cars causes car accidents.

You may have survived so far but I would not issue you a life insurance policy.

I don't understand. If it's addressed to me, didn't you miss that I am a staunch non-smoker, and I have always been?

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reader Casper said...

I was recently confronted for the first time with PM Julia Jillard's little pictorial numbers at the tobacco shop. Like pictures of the PM herself they are quite revolting. Undoubtedly surveys would show that printing Ms Jillard's image on cigarette packets would reduce smoking even further. I find it best to dump the packet in the nearest bin and smoke the contents. Problem solved.

reader Smoking Frog said...

Gene Day - The lung-cancer fraction of smokers in your experience is much higher than average. Most smokers do not get lung cancer. See here:

Sloan-Kettering Risk Calculator

reader Smoking Frog said...

I've always wondered why desktop PC's don't come with built-in ashtray and cigarette lighter, like the ones in a car. :-)

reader Josualdo said...

Smoking is just as bad for you as telephoning or texting while driving or drinking and driving. And several other deadly behaviours.

Years and years ago, when the passive smoking campaign began, I had the attitude "if they say so, then it must be true" (which is obviously over-naive).

One day I went to the library and decided to look at the abstracts for 5 years of papers in passive smoking. Roughly 1/3 said it was bad for non-smokers, 1/3 said that illnesses in non-smokers could be attributed to other, common causes, and 1/3 said nothing happened, really. (It's a longer story that this.)

There is a lot of dishonesty and hypocrisy in the anti-smoking campaign, but let's not say so.

Actually it was something of a blueprint for the global warming campaign, and also started by the UN (WHO).

The other side of naiveté is presuming that smoking is harmless to the smoker. Of course statistics and probabilities do not apply to individual cases.

Yet, to be coherent with the supposed dangers of passive smoking, one must avoid the above mentioned risk behaviors, and several others such as the USE of motor vehicles, living in a basement or floor level in a granite area (Radon inhalation), living or working dowtown in several seriously polluted cities such as Lisbon, etc. etc. etc.

reader Gene Day said...

The Sloan-Kettering Risk Calculator estimates the chances of your getting lung cancer during the next ten years. It does not provide the integrated risk over a lifetime. The latter is obviously a larger number.

I think that heavy smokers are likely to contract lung cancer if something else does not get them first. Most of the “something else” medical conditions are also exacerbated by smoking.

reader Gene Day said...

As I told you privately, Lubos, I was addressing sirernestbarker, not you.

reader Shannon said...

Gordon, CCTV cameras have taken over the old fashion malicious gossip from neighbours, only with a bit of truth in it ;-)

reader Smoking Frog said...

I'm sure the integrated risk over a lifetime is much smaller than your experience would suggest. Even for a person in his late 60s who has been smoking 2 packs a day for 45 years, it's pretty small (low teens of percents).

Of course it is true that heavy smokers are likely to contract lung cancer if something else doesn't get them first; any group would be likely to die of any cause if something else didn't get them first.

reader South Beach Smoke said...

What about electronic cigarettes? Are they also planning to impose ban on these devices?

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