Should Smoking Cigarettes be Banned?

Few other issues have created as many competing arguments about the role of government to control or regulate behavior as have drug use issues. The idea of banning cigarettes, interestingly, is not as modern as the media clamor indicates: the first bans were ordered in the 16th Century, by an anti-smoking Spanish king (over his Caribbean dominions) and the Pope (banning tobacco use in the Church).

There are now effective bans, meaning some restriction on “smoking,” throughout the world. Beginning with Ireland’s sweeping indoor ban in 2004, almost one hundred countries now have some stringent controls on public puffing (1). Examples of how, and why, several of these nations have passed bans also explain the policy issues behind bans…and why some of those bans do not seem to work.

Croatia is an emerging democracy, and smoking is symbolic of the West. This helps explain why almost a third of the population smokes—and why one important aspect (smoking in bars) of their ban regimen was repealed, within two years of being passed. Croatia is somewhat unusual, in retreating from a ban. Australia has the more common practice, seemingly being followed in America, where parts of the nation pass varied restrictions on smoking…with the more politically liberal parts of the country being the most restrictive.

As smoking use in America trended downward, at least until the 1990’s, American bans became more common. Even in areas where smoking was an economic staple, people came to support some restrictions. For example, Allen County, Kentucky, conducted a public health survey in 1996…results suggested that approximately 43% of residents supported “some restrictions” on public use of cigarettes. A Gallup Poll (November, 2000) suggested “95%” of all Americans supported restrictions on smoking in restaurants.

It would be a mistake, however, to assume every piece of restrictive smoking legislation in America is necessarily opposed by tobacco companies. Following a series of negotiated national settlements in the middle of this decade, many economists opined the big settlement was just that…good for “big tobacco” (see, for example, openmarkets.org). Essentially, making the macro-conditions of survivability, restricting who could remain in the international smoking market. Indeed, since that settlement, the Big Six smoking corporations have gotten more profitable—in part by eliminating smaller competitors. So when the U.S. Congress passed a new law (June, 2009) ordering FDA rule-making on tobacco as an addictive substance, tobacco giant Phillip Morris actually supported the anti-smoking legislation.

There are seemingly many more reasons to ban smoking than reasons to allow it (such as more than 400,000 smoking-related deaths annually): but the element of personal freedom remains a powerful force in America. There seems to be an undeniable but ill defined nexus between those supporting personal freedom and those who favor more state controls over health and welfare policy. Critics of the ban often point out the first nationwide ban on smoking was passed in 1941 Germany. This political dimension is further exemplified in the apparent contradiction between those who support a ban on tobacco, while favoring decriminalization of marijuana.


The banning of cigarettes may or may not be the second wave of a moral “Prohibition” movement. The fact is that some legislation now being proposed actually defines “smoking” as including the carrying or transportation of tobacco materials.

Unlike the consumption of alcohol, many smoking bans have closely paralleled declines in smoking among the influential decision makers. President Roosevelt, for example, celebrated the end of Prohibition with a publicized beer in the Oval Office. It is hard to imagine a current President prominently celebrating the rollback of tobacco bans with a smoking party. What does remain possible is that future attempts to more severely restrict smoking will devolve into a states’ rights issue…a situation where attempted federal bans on tobacco will be culled back, allowing more individual state choices to roll their own tobacco laws.

(1) Appendix A: Countries with some form of ban on smoking.

Argentina Armenia Australia Austria Bahrain Bangladesh Belgium Bermuda Bhutan Bosnia and Berzegovina Brazil Canada Chile China Colombia Croatia Cuba Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Estonia Faroe Islands Finland France Germany Greece Guernsey Hong Kong Hungary Iceland India Indonesia Ireland Isle of Man Israel Italy Japan Jersey Kazakhstan Kenya Lithuania Luxembourg Madagascar Malta Malaysia Mexico Monaco Montenegro Mozambique Netherlands New Zealand Niger Nigeria Norway Pakistan Peru Philippines Portugal Puerto Rico Qatar Romania Russia Singapore Serbia Slovenia South Africa Spain Sweden Switzerland Taiwan Thailand Turkey Uganda United Arab Emirates United Kingdom England Northern Ireland Scotland Wales United Nations United States Uruguay Vatican City Vietnam Zambia.


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