OnPoint by Keith Ng

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OnPoint: Sock-Puppeting Big Tobacco to Chew on ACT

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  • BenWilson, in reply to John Armstrong,

    Sacha, you raised the economic argument here. I refuted it here, by saying:

    My argument is not economic. It's moral. But I think the cost of smokers in a country that has superannuation is not what you think. It's quite cost effective, really, because it kills off people mostly after their productive life ends. This is a poor argument for it, though.

    What about this is hard to understand? You're the one who first spoke of treating people's life choices in terms of their cost to the public health system. I think that's fucked up in a big way, precisely because looking at it that way leads to sick calculus, which was incidentally backed up by Peter Graham here.

    For you to even speak of counting the public health cost of smokers as a harm against you is so unlike you I'm flabbergasted. Let's put aside that the claim is unproven, and could be bullshit, purely on economic terms (which was the only reason I raised that point - just noting this for the 10th time for anyone not keeping up, or too drunk to bother reading the thread). You're suggesting that you got harmed by someone else getting sick, because we have a welfare state? When exactly did you join ACT?

    Does anyone here genuinely have so little good faith that you're all going to make me go back through this thread and prove that I never, ever said that that the economic arguments for or against smoking are compelling to me in the slightest? Did no one read that my only concern is the moral implications of depriving people of choice regarding their own harm?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8675 posts Report Reply

  • Kracklite,

    Wrong. Most of the harms I experience from smokers come from sharing a publicly-funded health system with them. Not because they offend my nose or pollute my lungs.

    This shows an ignorance of probability.

    Granted, smoking increases the probability of cancer substantially, but that does not mean that all cancer sufferers, even those who have cancers that correlate with smoking most strongly, necessarily contracted their cancer as a result of their smoking. Someone who has a cancer, any cancer, may well have got it due to a supernova in a galaxy, far, far away. An insurance company is free, even obliged in deference to its stockholders, to calculate its premiums based on probabilities, but is a a society obliged to draw an absolute line between those cancers that may, most probably, be due to smoking and those that may (but not certainly), most probably (but not certainly), may not?

    The question is, then, whether you can determine whether someone’s cancer is due to their “choice” to smoke and continue smoking (disregarding the actual facts of how addiction really works) or a supernova somewhere. Good luck, and let’s see how that becomes the basis for policy.

    make me go back through this thread and prove that I never, ever said that that the economic arguments for or against smoking are compelling to me in the slightest?

    I don't care in the slightest where you started. I care where you ended.

    The Library of Babel • Since Nov 2007 • 980 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Kracklite,

    I’m sorry, but that just strikes me as defensive, and a little bit smug. An immediate family member whom I love is dying of cancer, another might yet. To talk about these people as if they were “burdens” is disrespectful.

    Defensive, yes. It's what happens when I'm accused of disrespect. Smug, no. It's an honest request. Find where I said what you accuse me of here, and I will apologize.

    You don’t have to agree, but you do seem to be very naive about people who have had to deal with addiction, or people who have had to deal with loved ones who are dying.

    I haven't even spoken about people who have had to deal with loved ones who are dying!

    As for the addiction question, I've hardly spoken about that at length, other than to say that generally it is broken by choice, if it is broken at all. No one else has really gone into any more detail, certainly no one has made any kind of case relying on knowledge of the ins and outs of it, for anything I was disputing. It's been lifted a couple of times to speak of my "bad faith", like some kind of bullet point from a slide we wrote years earlier and can't remember the details of.

    Sociopathy is a poor substitute for machismo, and I’ve never seen the worth of machismo anyway.

    Riddles are for wimps.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8675 posts Report Reply

  • Kracklite, in reply to BenWilson,

    Find where I said what you accuse me of here

    Already done. I won’t redundantly elaborate.

    I haven’t even spoken about people who have had to deal with loved ones who are dying!

    Indeed you haven’t, because it has not even occurred to you. It’s all very well to talk of abstract ideologies and abstract principles, but the world is not made of abstract ideologies and principles, it is made of the confrontation with uncomfortable, random facts, and the fact that they don’t fit those abstract ideologies is not mere observational error, that is in fact reality itself; hard, brutal and irreducible.

    The fact that you have not spoken of it is irrelevant. All that means is that you have chosen to exclude it from your argument, but real life is not so tidy.

    like some kind of bullet point from a slide we wrote years earlier and can’t remember the details of.

    This is completely incoherent. I cannot respond.

    Riddles are for wimps.

    I can give you the dimensions of my penis in inches or centimetres, but I fail to see the relevance of this.

    The Library of Babel • Since Nov 2007 • 980 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Kracklite,

    OIC, you're drunk and belligerent again. 'Night all.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8675 posts Report Reply

  • Kracklite,

    generally it is broken by choice, if it is broken at all.

    Not without help... and over a long time. "Choice" is a very simplistic concept as you present it.

    The Library of Babel • Since Nov 2007 • 980 posts Report Reply

  • Kracklite, in reply to BenWilson,

    Argumentum ad hominem ... and even less than that, because it's based on assumption or projection. Exactly how much have I been drinking tonight? Do tell.

    Ah, but of course, your post is explicitly a pretext for a withdrawal.

    The Library of Babel • Since Nov 2007 • 980 posts Report Reply

  • stever@cs.waikato.ac.nz,

    Sorry...back a bit to the property rights and planning...but this piece by Monbiot seems very applicable here too.

    Hamilton • Since Nov 2006 • 58 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark,

    Ah, the smokers argument. How much do smokers cost the taxpayer? It's estimated, in dollar terms, at about $350million per annum. It is thought, however, that excise on tobacco products brings in about $1 billion dollars per annum. So there goes the economic argument. As for the social costs? Each person has the choice to take up smoking. Statistics say about 12% of us smoke. So that's 480,000 people. And every year, 5000 people die of smoking related illnesses. Those are the figures. I don't buy the argument that mountain climbing and other adventure sports kill as many people as smoking does, because patently, that is not true. Smoking does kill, yes it does. But it would seem to me that all the arguments in the world won't solve the problem that people want to solve. Which is how do you stop someone you love dying from an illness which is selfinduced? You don't. If someone is a smoker, then that is part of who they are. If you care about them, you may try to get them to stop. That might work, but people will do only do something if they are self motivated. You may hate that they are killing themselves, but that really isn't down to you, nor is it your prerogative to lay the guilts on them. My bigger concerns lie around the costs of alcohol to our society. Let's talk about that.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3123 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to BenWilson,

    the claim is unproven, and could be bullshit

    Sigh. It's not. Again, this is like arguing climate science or the roundness of the earth. There is a whole health discipline dedicated to tobacco harm, including health economists. With figures different than Jackie has just offered (but Carrick must be loving our efforts).

    Ben, if your "moral" argument is that any anti-smoking action is just puritanical and punitive then you're not paying attention. There are real harms to real people. Especially compared with being asked to consume the product only in certain places or be a certain age to buy it. Those conditions may infringe some sense of personal freedom that you've mentioned, hence my question about its significance.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16838 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Kracklite,

    smoking increases the probability of cancer

    Smoking also has other health harms.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16838 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to BenWilson,

    As for the addiction question

    Yeah, someone else can tackle that one if you're unwilling to do some reading. I have another meeting of the national cancer clinical information systems leadership group to prepare for this morning. (seriously).

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16838 posts Report Reply

  • izogi, in reply to BenWilson,

    Yes, it is possible to smoke in a particularly obnoxious way. It's also very easy to point that out, which most smokers will take immediate note of, conveniently moving away, or extinguishing their cigarette.

    My point is that outdoor cigarette smoke is ubiquitous in outdoor urban places at any time with enough random people around and can't easily be gotten away from by people who need to interact with urban places. Yes you can ask some people to stop or shift away if they're nearby and some people will do so, some will feel offended or embarrassed, some will ignore you and finish what they're doing and some will start arguing with you. Right now it is socially acceptable to smoke in public places, and the official message is that everyone who smokes has to do so outdoors. People's smoking concentrates in the time they're outside, typically for the same reasons as others. That's just how things are, and the smoke from it gets everywhere that people collect together. It's simplistic and untrue to say that those who dislike it can just avoid it -- it's a fact of being in a city. If you can avoid it after spending a reasonable amount of time in an urban setting then I'd suggest you're either very lucky in the places you frequent, insensitive to it or you're ignoring rather than avoiding it.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 437 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    No particulate place to go...
    a passing observation - Just went out to get the paper, as a school girl in uniform went by in a cloud of smoke - Puff the Magic Drag On brand must be doing well...

    tabagie...
    The French always have a word for these things...

    Tabagie - Originally, meaning "a group of smokers who meet together in the manner of a club." It was just about to go the way of the dodo, but now suddenly a renaissance—in all of the major American cities one can find them once more, a tabagie, huddled together outside bars and workplaces and restaurants, united in suffering under the ban of their favorite activity.

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 5092 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    I already said I don't disagree with banning it in buildings...but on the street, that I don't like.

    I would like it very much. So would my husband and my son and my daughter. Why is what you like more important than what we like?

    That's a tough one. It certainly is the law for boats over a certain size. But I wouldn't really think it should be necessary for someone fishing off a dingy near the shore, or some kid sailing their P-class off a beach. The main thing about boats, unlike smoking, is that you can easily kill other people with them. Rather like cars. That's why cars require licenses to drive, but pushbikes don't (even though it is very easy to kill yourself on a pushbike).

    As George has stated, the government controls things in proportion to their harm. Most boat users do not die from driving a boat, let alone from having regularly driven boats 10 years ago but never since then. The same is true for cars.

    [Not Ben...] Some of this effect [smokers in the street] is no doubt a consequence of legislation that restricts smoking indoors around workplaces, but it's a side effect that's not been addressed in any way.

    I raised this issue at a recent epidemiological conference presentation on government anti-tobacco measures. The speaker's response was that it was unfortunate, but hopefully temporary while smoking rates reduced. Apart from the smell (which I object to in the same way that people living near sewage treatment plants rightfully object when the treatment isn't working properly and their suburb stinks), I have real concerns about the fact that smoking in the street makes smoking much more visible to children than it was previously. I am concerned this may make children think it's more "normal" than it is. I don't see this as a reason to allow smokers back inside, but I do see it as a reason to ban smoking in public places.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 396 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    Oh, and one more thing:

    It is a stretch for you to suggest that smokers have generally agreed to most of your positions here.

    Quite the opposite. New Zealand research has found tobacco control measures to be generally supported by smokers (see here.)

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 396 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Jackie Clark,

    Cheers Jacks. That's how I see it, although I do think guilts might be more powerful than you credit, if coming from the right source at the right time. I just don't think that source is random strangers.

    Ben, if your "moral" argument is that any anti-smoking action is just puritanical and punitive then you're not paying attention.

    If you think I said that, then you're not paying attention. I support quite a few anti smoking initiatives, although some of them for different reasons than others. Mass education, because it treats the addict as an adult human. Indoor smoking bans, because passive smoking causes real harm to others. Help lines and therapy services, because they work. Nasty packaging, because it might work. Promotion of non-smoking role models. Strict prevention of sales to children. Banning many kinds of advertising.

    But there are things that I don't support. I might go into them later, if I get a sense that this debate is heading in a direction of attempting to understand each other, rather than preaching to the choir.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8675 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Also, in the more common of the examples you've given (walking down stairs, wet floors) noone's making money off them.

    Fucking Big Cleaners. Exploiting us by making floors wet that we have to walk on.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6221 posts Report Reply

  • HORansome, in reply to BenWilson,

    But there are things that I don't support. I might go into them later, if I get a sense that this debate is heading in a direction of attempting to understand each other, rather than preaching to the choir.

    How very Owen Glenn of you.

    Tāmaki Makaurau • Since Sep 2008 • 424 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to BenWilson,

    if I get a sense that this debate is heading in a direction of attempting to understand each other

    I'd like to understand how you see the relationship between addiction and personal choice.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16838 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Kyle Matthews,

    Fucking Big Cleaners

    great branding opportunity

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16838 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to BenWilson,

    If you think I said that, then you're not paying attention

    I must have misunderstood this, for one:

    I also think the aim of the taxes on smoking are simply sin-taxes, tickling an urge in puritans that I find quite unpleasant myself.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16838 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    I’m going save everyone the bother (warning, assumptions about others here, if symptoms persist see your doctor).

    Ben is upset about being picked on. His basic assumption (as I gather from what has been written here) is that much of tobacco policy is primarily punitive, driven not by health needs, but by a societal wish to sanction those who violate norms. Society must be defended. He says that he is not driven by this, but I don’t believe him, insomuch as he claims to be comfortable only with measures that do not impinge much on his freedom. This is an approach/response also frequently adopted by those who challenge the state’s efforts to promote health in other areas (including diet). I’ll only address tobacco here, because each has a tangle of ideas and assumptions that need unpacking and f*’d if I’m going to debate (for example) obesity today too.

    However. This isn’t actually a driver of policy, at least as far as I can tell from reading and listening to health ministries and tobacco-control activists. If this motive is here, it’s well hidden.

    What is at stake are a number of things. Reducing the number of social contexts in which it is possible to smoke actually has significant effects on use. If it’s no longer possible to smoke at your desk, while at a bar, in a park, or on public transport, your physical opportunities are limited. People do of course smoke in between these, but the evidence I understand is pretty clear on this. Reducing consumption also reduces nicotine levels, meaning that breaking addiction is easier. Difficult, but easier. Reducing the acceptability of smoking in a large number of contexts also breaks a lot of psychosocial links, further helping smokers to quit. Reducing these contexts also severely limits the contexts in which new smokers are exposed to tobacco as a ‘normal’ activity. Ben persists in the idiotic assertion that smoking is a choice made by rational adults, rather than a addiction fallen into by teenagers. So, this part is important. Reducing their exposure to even small amounts of nicotine is important. Tobacco is extremely addictive, and even small amounts make regular tobacco use much more likely. Finally, the raft of other measures (including point of sale control, packaging control, and pricing) all help prevent future smokers from acquiring the addiction, and help existing users to quit. Most users who are aware of the health effects (in NZ is the great majority are aware) want to quit.

    Second hand smoke is very serious, and although there are some situations (a park, for example). Nevertheless, Ben is chosing to ignore this part of things, because it does not coincide with his argument.

    Apologies for the length. I feel like I have to spell everything out.

    The People's Republic of … • Since Nov 2006 • 2136 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark, in reply to George Darroch,

    So George, acknowledging that secondhand smoke is dangerous, why do you want smokers to stop smoking? None of any of what you said above addresses quite why so much money is spent every year attempting to stop a small part of the population from partaking of a habit which, if they are considerate and aren't blowing smoke in others' faces, or smoking in their houses thereby damaging their children, is entirely their own business. Is it because you believe that tobacco companies are evil? Is it because it benefits society if we all live long lives uninterrupted by any disease? Why? If it's in the public's interest, why is it so?

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3123 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart,

    a small part of the population

    The last stats I saw – admittedly a few years ago – had smokers as about 20% of the general population and higher in some subgroups (esp. Maori and Pasifika women.) That’s not a majority, but it’s not “small” by any standard. Have numbers of smokers really decreased that much in the last five years?

    And I think the key is as George says: most smokers become addicted as teenagers, with health consequences for the rest of their lives. I think it’s pretty obvious why it’s a public good to minimise the chances of people taking up a very highly addictive and unhealthy habit at a young age.

    Amherst, MA • Since Nov 2006 • 2093 posts Report Reply

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