Further Information

Smoked out: antitobacco activism at the World Bank | Richard Tren, Hugh High, Deepak Lal
Article Published: 1999

Type: Review
Published By: Institute of Economic Affairs

Further Information

This review of the Curbing The Epidemic: Governments And The Economics Of Tobacco Control (World Bank, 1999) by Richard Tren, RJT Environmental Economics and Consultant to SA Government, South Africa and Prof. High High, then Principal Lecturer Economics, University of Cape Town, South Africa, was published by the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Very much like the “science-to-fit-ideology” of the USSR, the rules of science and the laws of economics are ignored or bent constantly to justify the ideological crusade against tobacco.

In this powerful analysis that is now nearly ten years old, it is demonstrated conclusively that – even if all “evils” of tobacco were true, and thus its “cost” to society, the gain to society far exceeds the liabilities. Emphasis added in quote:

"The World Bank report does an intellectual somersault in denying this standard economic methodology based on consumer sovereignty. In post-modernist garb, it characterises a divided self. It claims a smoker has a physical addiction which prevents rational decisions, so that the mind (I presume) imposes life-threatening smoking on the body. This means that, within this divided self, there is an externality that the mind imposes on the body. Thus the usual consumer surplus benefits that individuals derive from the utility of smoking are in fact, benefits that accrue to the mind at the expense of the body, and hence can, from the viewpoint of the body, be completely discounted and be looked upon as costs! For mainstream economists who have (rightly) always taken a more robust view of the mind-body problem, this assumption can only be an example of higher nonsense."

Here dangerous foundations are set: a smoker cannot be rational about his choice. The conclusion that if he did not have an “addiction” he would not chose to smoke because he would agree that “smoking kills” is automatic. It also follows that the “authorities” can limit his freedom and overpower his will with force, as they commit no crime or abuse since the smoker is incapable of a rational decision. It also follows that coercion “therapy” is not out of the question. It also follows that such rationale is not and cannot be limited to smoking.

The review’s conclusions highlight the typical contradictions and matrix of the antitobacco ideology (emphases added):

"Among others the authors have relied upon unpublished data and papers, which apart from being unprofessional, does not allow the reviewer to fully analyse the findings. The Report favours the introduction of tax increases as the most effective way of stopping myopic smokers (the young, poor and less educated) from smoking. It even states that tobacco tax increases will be progressive and therefore beneficial to the poor. In order to justify intervention, the authors have argued that because of the addictive nature of tobacco, it is not a normal good and consumers are not able to make rational decisions about how much to consume. This argument however is undermined by the authors who argue that, as with any normal good, price increases will cause a reduction in demand. In many areas, the research and arguments do not stand up to criticism on economic grounds."

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