Montréal, June 15, 2005 • No 155




Jasmin Guénette holds a master's degree in Political Science at Université du Québec à Montréal.




by Jasmin Guénette


          In a few months, if the Quebec government goes through with its stated agenda, it will be illegal to smoke cigarettes in all restaurants, hotels, bars, and private clubs. Quebec Health Minister Philippe Couillard knows what's best for you and he won't hesitate to impose it!


Is smoking really that bad?

          With all these government-paid ads on TV, radio, daily papers and magazines saying not only that all smokers will die from tobacco consumption, but that "second hand smoke" will cause the death of thousands non-smokers, many people now believe that only by standing next to a lighted cigarette, their life expectancy will go down the drain.

          The truth is that second hand smoke kills less than flu, pneumonia, traffic accidents and many other things(1). The public health crusaders want us to believe that lung cancer can only be caused by cigarettes and that all smokers will die from this habit, which is false. Only 10% of smokers will die from lung cancer(2). The cigarette consumption in Greece is higher than in North America, but lung cancer is not. People in Finland are more likely to catch lung cancer than Americans even if they smoke half as much. Why don't we hear those facts from our politicians and the so-called interest groups fighting on our behalf?

          The answer is simple: people who fight tobacco use are not caring scientists but political activists who want to impose their lifestyle to all. Those tobacco fighters are supported by junk scientists and by politicians who seek votes by alarming people.

          This is not to say that tobacco is 100% risk-free, but certainly not as risky as health bureaucrats want you to believe. And even if tobacco was as bad as some say, should the state regulate its consumption? The answer is no. The mission of a state (if any) should never be to try to modify personal preferences.

State against "risky" lifestyle

          The main reason why the state is chasing smokers wherever they can be found is because of our socialized health care system. This is the ultimate justification. The cost on the system would be too high and therefore we (whatever that means) must sacrifice some preferences to preserve our "free" and "universal" health care system.

"Even if tobacco was as bad as some say, should the state regulate its consumption? The answer is no."

          Now, if it's true that a smoker will die younger, isn't this money in the bank? Smokers could in fact save the system from bankruptcy by paying a lot(3) and not using the services, leaving beds in hospital for old "healthy" people. Also, if a large proportion of the voters and many politicians wish to have socialized medicine (whatever the reasons are), then they should not complain about paying for it. Isn't this what "solidarity" means?

          Some weeks ago the Quebec government mentioned they could impose a new tax on every bottle of sodas to pay for the Montreal Olympic Stadium's maintenance. The French government is currently working to impose new nutritional requirements to the fast food industry. All companies that would not follow the new rules would not be able to promote their products trough TV, magazines and other medias. Recently, a politician in Ontario recommended that beer and wine companies selling in Canada should have caution labels on every bottle they sell. All those measures were imposed on the tobacco industry to reduce smoking.

          The pattern is clear: you give one inch to the State and it takes a mile. All those laws restricting individual and commercial freedom are voted by politicians in "free and democratic" societies. Could democracy only be two wolves and one sheep voting for dinner?

          In a free society, the state does not regulate peaceful economic transactions, even when the transaction concerns "risky" products such as alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. In a free society, the government doesn't tell bar owners they can no longer welcome smokers as costumers. In a free society, the law recognizes bars, restaurants, hotels and clubs as privately owned businesses, not as "public places."

          Unfortunately, recent history has shown that the fight against tobacco is a top priority for many governments of western countries. Smokers and business owners that are threatened by the Quebec law – and non-smokers who disagree with the law – should try to resist as much as they can by doing small things. Two of them could be (1) to buy this great Smoking is healthier than fascism t-shirt from bureaucrash and (2) register on line to / and become a member of one of the only groups dedicated to smokers' freedom.


1. Should cigarettes be banned in public places?, Montreal Economic Institute, April 2005.
2. Pierre Lemieux, Tabac et liberté, l'État comme problème de santé publique, Montréal: Éditions Varia, 1997, p. 13.
3. More than half the revenues from each pack of cigarettes goes into government coffers.