Smokers—what should we do with them?

We sometimes treat them like second-class citizens. Or do we? Certainly smokers hate it when we force them out into the cold for a butt. Here in Michigan, we’re thinking about restricting smoking in a lot of public places. There benefits are supposed to accrue to three groups: the smokers themselves, their co-workers who are exposed to second-hand smoke, and the public, who pays more for health care because of smoking.

I asked a simplistic question once about whether smokers should pay higher insurance premiums, that doesn’t really bring the same benefits to everyone as a more comprehensive approach. Now, outlawing smoking altogether seems foolish—you know, prohibition, black market, etc. But is it unreasonable to limit smoking to, essentially, the someones own private space?

How do we justify a potential limitation of individual liberties? Smoking is the biggest cause of premature (and preventable) death in the U.S., leading to about half-a-million deaths yearly. Data from 1998 showed smoking was responsible for about 76 billion dollars in health care expenditures, plus productivity loses of about 92 billion dollars per year. Smoking sickens and kills people, and costs are (very crappy) economy a lot of money. For both economic and public health reasons, we must make smoking cessation a paramount societal goal.

How do we do this?

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