That’s what Robert Proctor, a historian of science at Stanford University, argues in his forthcoming book Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition. Proctor writes that public education is insufficient as a weapon against cigarettes — a highly addictive and often deadly drug — and that an outright ban is perhaps the only way to stop cigarette use. From the book’s website:

The cigarette is the deadliest artifact in the history of human civilization. It is also one of the most beguiling, thanks to more than a century of manipulation at the hands of tobacco industry chemists. In Golden Holocaust, Robert N. Proctor draws on reams of formerly-secret industry documents to explore how the cigarette came to be the most widely-used drug on the planet, with six trillion sticks sold per year. He paints a harrowing picture of tobacco manufacturers conspiring to block the recognition of tobacco-cancer hazards, even as they ensnare legions of scientists and politicians in a web of denial. Proctor tells heretofore untold stories of fraud and subterfuge, and he makes the strongest case to date for a simple yet ambitious remedy: a ban on the manufacture and sale of cigarettes.

You can read more about Proctor’s book, and the arguments for a cigarette ban, in this recent article by philosopher Peter Singer. Here’s a snippet: 

As Proctor says, cigarettes, not guns or bombs, are the deadliest artifacts in the history of civilization. If we want to save lives and improve health, nothing else that is readily achievable would be as effective as an international ban on the sale of cigarettes. …

Some argue that as long as a drug harms only those who choose to use it, the state should let individuals make their own decisions, limiting its role to ensuring that users are informed of the risks that they are running. But tobacco is not such a drug, given the dangers posed by secondhand smoke, especially when adults smoke in a home with young children.

Even setting aside the harm that smokers inflict on nonsmokers, the free-to-choose argument is unconvincing with a drug as highly addictive as tobacco, and it becomes even more dubious when we consider that most smokers take up the habit as teenagers and later want to quit.

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