In case you were wondering what’s next on the government’s prohibition list, the answer is tobacco — at least in China, where officials are aggressively pushing to ban smoking in most public places by the end of 2017. If certain regulatory bodies get their way, the roughly 316 million smokers in China will no longer be allowed to light up around sports stadiums, hospitals, and tourist sites, and they’ll be barred from smoking cigarettes anywhere indoors where there are other people present.
China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission in conjunction with a senior government health official came up with the idea, which aims to eventually stamp out all tobacco use in China, one public place at a time. At the recent Global Conference on Health Promotion in Shanghai, the commission’s publicity head, Mao Qun’an, announced the agenda with succinct clarity when he stated that “smoking harms health has become a global consensus.”
In other words, since most government bodies around the world are now in agreement that smoking cigarettes isn’t good for one’s lungs and could cause cancer, the next step is to basically prohibit people from using it by gradually eliminating not only access to tobacco through heavy taxes and excessive regulations, but also all avenues with which to use it, including in the outdoor air.
According to reports, draft legislation would make it illegal to smoke at all indoor public venues, including in public transit vehicles and even at workplaces. Outdoor areas where smoking will be prohibited include around hospitals, at primary schools and kindergartens, near tourist sites, and in close proximity to sports stadiums. Each person who violates the provisions will be subject to a $72 fine, while businesses in violation face fines as high as $4,320.
Is smoking a fundamental human right?
The Chinese government has tried in the past to implement anti-smoking legislation such as this, including back in 2011 with the passage of a similar bill that was never effectively enforced. With this latest bill, though, officials hope to foster better enforcement and bring smoking to a bare minimum by essentially encouraging more people to quit through disincentives in the public interest.
Some critics say that China’s failure to adopt World Health Organization (WHO) packaging guidelines that are designed to scare people into not smoking has helped contribute to people there not quitting — that and low, market-driven prices for cigarettes, which in some cases can be purchased for as little as about $1.60 per pack. By the government not getting more involved, in other words, people in China are continuing to smoke as they normally would.
But is this not the essence of human freedom? As disgusting as many people find cigarette smoke, it is the right of human beings to freely utilize the plants that grow on our planet without oppression, and this includes tobacco. When the government gets too involved and starts trying to prohibit the use of such substances like it’s currently doing with tobacco, we end up in “War on Drugs” territory, which much of the world now recognizes as being little more than government tyranny against its own citizens.
Inhaling the smoke from burning tobacco may not be a good thing, but neither is the government constantly telling its citizens what to do — especially when it’s from the barrel of a gun. Like China, the U.S. is grappling with how to handle the tobacco issue, as the damaging effects of its use cost everyone in the form of higher healthcare costs. But at what point do reasonable regulatory interventions breach into the realm of tyranny?