Having failed to get into the fray in timely fashion on Harold’s post about Romney, Bain, and cigarettes, let me offer a few belated comments:
1. Mass-market cigarettes are much more health-damaging than they need to be to deliver nicotine to people who want, or are addicted to, nicotine. It’s hardly unfair to hold the companies and their enablers morally culpable for killing people unnecessarily.
2. Yes, smokers in the U.S. know the habit is bad for you, despite decades of expensive effort by the cigarette companies to obfuscate the truth. Smokers in Russia, maybe not so much.
3. Most adult smokers are hooked. Their smoking isn’t fully “voluntary” anymore. Yes, they could quit; most have tried at least once, and failed. The median number of unsuccessful quit attempts before success is five. Some people never lose the craving: they will have intrusive thoughts about smoking for the rest of their lives.
4. Almost no one starts smoking as an adult. More than 90% of the addicts start as minors. Those transactions are already illegal. And yet the cigarette companies keep shaping their marketing efforts to capture new, underage smokers, who are after all the future of the business. (Camel is now doing well with “Camel Crush,” which converts from non-menthol to menthol when you pinch it. The kids love it, and the other brands are worried because Camel is doing well in that illegal but essential market segment.)
5. Bain wasn’t just helping companies figure out how to provide cigarettes to consumers; it was helping them figure out how to lobby against regulations that demonstrably save lives.
6. Yes, I would support a ban on cigarettes, or at least cigarettes made from standard tobacco rather than TSN-free tobacco or containing additives. Current smokers could be weaned on to e-cigarettes, which provide nicotine but not “flavor” (i.e., particulates and carcinogens).
When 90% of current smokers say that they wish they’d never started, it takes a really quite astounding act of intellectual stubbornness to insist that “freedom” means the right to tempt children into a habit that they will later wish they didn’t have, and that will eventually kill about half of them unless they go through the unpleasant process of quitting. (Yes, smoking doubles mortality at every age.)