Written by: Zolani Nkomo
South African Minister of Health Dr. Aaron Mostoeledi recently announced plans to implement a bill that would ban smoking from public areas. According to US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, 20,000 deaths are caused by smoking in South Africa. Whereas Statistics South Africa reported that 35,094 children under the age of five died from road accidents in the year 2013. 78.9% of all reported accidents were attributed to alcohol abuse.
20,000 seems like enough justification to ban smoking right?
Wrong. The difference between car accidents and smoking is that, with car accidents other people’s lives are at risk whereas with smoking you put your own life in risk. The ban on smoking in public spaces extends to designated smoking areas where smokers can choose to be together and kill themselves if they wish. This should not be looked at as a cost-benefit analysis of the value of a smoker’s life and how it continues to depreciate with each drag the smoker chooses to inhale. We should rather pay close attention to the problem; with restrictions to smoking that go beyond the fact that smokers already pay a substantial amount of ‘sin tax’ which the government has no problem enjoying. Furthermore putting a “value” on a human life should raise moral concerns above the individual’s choice to smoke.
The restrictions on the places where you are allowed to smoke should only extend to the areas where a smoker would be subjecting a non-smoker to second hand smoke. These restrictions are an infringement to the smoker’s freedom of choice, whereas smoking signs have always been a constant irritating reminder. Restaurant Spur significantly cut down on space designated to smoking introducing inhumane cage like “booths” with transparent glass windows, where smokers would be subject to public spectatorship in an already congested and claustrophobic environment. The reality of the addictive nature of smoking is clear to us all. The cancerous effects of smoking are clear to all smokers. The ‘scary’ words on all cigarette boxes make it known to the smoker what it is he could be doing to himself.
However at above all of that should be the freedom to choose. Putting morality in legislation completely goes against the ideas of liberty, which can only be realised in a minimal state which does not interfere in the private choices of its citizens by applying a “sin” tax for pleasurable indulgences (for you non-smokers; sin tax extends to sweets, chocolates, alcohol.. etc.). Morality in legislation is a theocratic concept which should have no space in a liberal democracy where there is a clear separation between church and state and rule is not derived from a divine higher authority.
What are smokers paying tax for if not the liberty to choose where they want to smoke? And I maintain that; government should not infringe on individual freedom of choice. The government should instead appreciate the benefits derived from taxing smokers (since I hardly doubt the sin tax will be revoked) and say Thank You For Smoking!
Author: Zolani Nkomo is a third year politics student at the University of Pretoria.