Smoker’s License

I do not smoke and I dislike the smell of tobacco smoke so much that I can’t stand to be in the same room as someone who is smoking. In fact, an ideal world to me would be one in which the tobacco plant didn’t exist at all. With that in mind, you might think that I would be for a proposal to require smokers to purchase licenses from the government in order to buy cigarettes. In fact, I am totally against it. First, here is the story I found on Drudge and read on CBS News.

A public health proposal suggests that tobacco smokers should be required to apply and pay for a “smoker’s license” in order to continue buying cigarettes.

In this week’s PLOS Medicine medical journal, two leading tobacco control advocates debate the merits of the smoker’s license. Simon Chapman, a professor at the University of Sydney, proposes that users would have to apply and pay for a mandatory license in the form of a smartcard that would be shown when buying cigarettes.

Dr. Chapman wrote that it could discourage young people from picking up the habit.

In a controversial move, the smartcard would allow the government to limit how many cigarettes a smoker could buy. Professor Chapman suggests 50 per day averaged over two weeks to accommodate heavy smokers. The anti-smoking activist told the Daily Mail that the sale of tobacco is currently subject to trivial controls compared to other dangerous products that threaten both public and personal safety.


Arguing against the smoker’s license in the journal is Jeff Collin, a professor at the University of Edinburgh. Professor Collin wrote that it would shift focus away from the real vector of the epidemic—the tobacco industry—and focusing on individuals would censure victims, increase stigmatization of smokers, and marginalize the poor.

Professor Collin believes that limits to personal freedom will doom such legislation.

“The authoritarian connotations of the smoker’s license would inevitably meet with broad opposition,” Collin told the Daily Mail. “In the United Kingdom, for example, successive governments have failed to introduce identity cards.”

Citing future scientific benefit, Prof. Chapman wrote that the information collected from smartcard applications could be used to formulate better smoking prevention strategies.

“Opponents of the idea would be quick to suggest that Orwellian social engineers would soon be calling for licenses to drink alcohol and to eat junk food or engage in any ‘risky’ activity,” Dr. Chapman told the Daily Mail. “This argument rests on poor public understanding of the magnitude of the risks of smoking relative to other cumulative everyday risks to health.”

Leaving aside the obvious objections of  personal choice and responsibility, I have to wonder if it has occurred to these activists that a policy like this would end up creating a black market in cigarettes, bought by smokers who didn’t want to pay for the license or who wanted to smoke more than their ration. As a matter of fact, there already is a black market transporting cigarettes from low taxed states to high taxed states. If we cannot prevent people from using drugs like marijuana or heroin which are completely illegal, what makes them think that this lisencing scheme will work any better?