December 8, 2021

Smoking – licence it or tax it?

In academic discourse the merits of regulating smoking are a forgone conclusion. The question under debate now is how to regulate.

In academic discourse the merits of regulating smoking are a forgone conclusion. The question under debate now is how to regulate. In a commentary published in the Journal of Medical Ethics this week, Sydney University Public Health academic Simon Chapman advocates a ‘smoking licence’ – a policy that he has promoted for some time.

Chapman argues that governments should implement a licensing system whereby all smokers have to pay a license fee and undertake a smoking ‘risk knowledge test’. There would be different grades of licence depending on the frequency with which one smoked each day, and the cost of the licence would increase with the grade. 

Chapman believes that his proposed model is a plausible model for implementation in countries with advanced anti-smoking campaigns: “The proposed smoker’s license described below merits serious consideration as a major platform in the tobacco control endgame now being considered in nations with advanced records of reducing smoking” he wrote in a highly cited 2012 article.

In his JME commentary Chapman presents his position as a ‘milder’ version of the prohibitively expensive licence proposed by Daniel Halliday, a philosopher at the University of Melbourne. Halliday’s proposed licence is indexed to the current excise tax on individual cigarettes in Australia –would be cost approximately A$3879 for a 20-cigarette-pack-a-day smoker. Chapman suggests Halliday’s tax will not “withstand a moment’s scrutiny from governments” due to the “fatal role of the ‘severe’ cost of the licence he proposes.”

Ironically the JME published an article last year advocating a much more severe policy than Halliday’s. Kalle Grill (University of Umea, in Sweden,) and Kristin Voight (McGill) argued for a total ban on smoking.

Smoking – licence or tax it?
Xavier Symons
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Creative commons
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law
paternalism
public health
smoking