In regard to taking action to reduce the use of tobacco, governments should keep in mind that while people decide on their own whether they should stop smoking, it is a government’s responsibility to take all the necessary measures to encourage them to stop. The steps taken by legislators and governments of many countries have been indecisive, because while the reduction in the use of tobacco is an undisputed improvement in public health—with attendant savings in public health expenditures—there would be a series of economic losses and dislocations in many sectors, at least of a temporary nature. The pressure that international health and environmental organizations and agencies can exert in this regard is very important, because many countries may water down measures against the use of tobacco because of economic problems—especially if tobacco is an important source of income.
This article briefly describes regulatory measures that can be adopted to reduce smoking in a country.
Warnings on Cigarette Packs
One of the first measures adopted in many countries is to require that cigarette packs prominently display the warning that smoking seriously injures the smoker’s health. This warning, whose aim is not so much to exert an immediate effect on the smoker, but rather to show that the government is concerned about the problem, is creating a psychological climate that will favour the adoption of later measures that otherwise would be considered aggressive by the smoking population.
Some experts advocate the inclusion of these warnings on cigars and pipe tobacco. But the more general opinion is that those warnings are unnecessary, because people who use that type of tobacco do not normally inhale the smoke, and extending these warnings would lead more likely to a disregard of the messages as a whole. This is why the prevalent opinion is that the warnings should be applied only to cigarette packs. A reference to second-hand smoke has not, for the moment, been considered, but it is not an option that should be discarded.
Smoking Restrictions in Public Spaces
Forbidding smoking in public spaces is one of the most effective regulatory instruments. These prohibitions can significantly reduce the number of people exposed to second-hand smoke and, in addition, can reduce smokers’ daily cigarette consumption. The common complaints by owners of public spaces, such as hotels, restaurants, recreational facilities, dance halls, theatres and so forth, are based on the argument that these measures will result in a loss of customers. However, if governments implement these measures across the board, the negative impact of a loss of clientele will occur only in the first phase, because people will eventually adapt to the new situation.
Another possibility is the design of specific spaces for smokers. The separation of smokers from non-smokers should be effective in order to obtain the desired benefits, creating barriers that prevent non-smokers from inhaling tobacco smoke. Separation must thus be physical and, if the air-conditioning system uses recycled air, the air from smoking areas should not be mixed with that from non-smoking areas. Creating spaces for smokers therefore implies construction and compartmentalization expenses, but may be a solution for those who want to serve the smoking public.
Aside from locations where smoking is obviously forbidden for security reasons because of possible explosion or fire, there should also be areas—such as health care and sports facilities, schools and day-care centres—where smoking is not permitted even though there are no safety risks of that kind.
Smoking Restrictions at Work
Smoking restrictions in the workplace may also be considered in light of the above. Governments and business owners, together with trade unions, can establish programmes to reduce the use of tobacco at work. Campaigns to curtail smoking at work are generally successful.
Whenever possible, creating non-smoking areas to establish a policy against tobacco use and to support people who defend the right not to be second-hand smokers is recommended. In case of a conflict between a smoker and a non-smoker, regulations should always allow the non-smoker to prevail, and whenever they cannot be separated, the smoker should be pressured to abstain from smoking at the workstation.
In addition to places where for health or safety reasons smoking should be forbidden, the possibility of synergism between the effects of chemical pollution in the workplace and tobacco smoke should not be ignored in other areas either. The weight of such considerations will result, without a doubt, in a broad extension of smoking restrictions, especially in industrial workplaces.
Greater Economic Pressure against Tobacco
Another regulatory tool governments rely on to curb the use of tobacco is levying higher taxes, chiefly on cigarettes. This policy is intended to lead to lower tobacco consumption, which would justify the inverse relation between the price of tobacco and its consumption and which can be measured when comparing the situation in different countries. It is considered effective where the population is forewarned of the dangers of tobacco use and advised of the need to stop consuming it. An increase in the price of tobacco can be a motivation to quit smoking. This policy, however, has many opponents, who base their criticisms on arguments briefly mentioned below.
In the first place, according to many specialists, the increase in the price of tobacco for fiscal reasons is followed by a temporary reduction in the use of tobacco, followed by a gradual return to the previous consumption levels as the smokers get used to the new price. In other words, smokers assimilate a rise in the price of tobacco much in the same way that people get used to other taxes or to the rise in the cost of living.
In the second place, a shift in the habits of smokers has also been observed. When prices go up they tend to seek out cheaper brands of lower quality that probably also pose a greater risk to their health (because they lack filters or have higher amounts of tar and nicotine). This shift may go so far as to induce smokers to adopt the practice of making home-made cigarettes, which would completely eliminate any possibility of controlling the problem.
In the third place, many experts are of the opinion that measures of this kind tend to bolster the belief that the government accepts tobacco and its consumption as yet another means to collect taxes, leading to the contradictory belief that what the government really wants is that people smoke so that it can collect more money with the special tax on tobacco.
Another weapon used by governments to reduce tobacco consumption is to restrict or simply forbid any publicity for the product. Governments and many international organizations have a policy of forbidding publicity for tobacco in certain spheres, such as sports (at least some sports), health care, the environment, and education. This policy has unquestionable benefits, which are especially effective when it eliminates publicity in those environments that affect young people at a time when they are likely to take up the smoking habit.
Public Programmes that Encourage People to QuitSmoking
The use of anti-smoking campaigns as a normal practice, adequately funded and organized as a rule of conduct in certain spheres, such as the world of work, has been shown to be highly successful.
Campaigns to Educate Smokers
Complementing what was said above, educating smokers so that they will smoke “better” and cut down on their consumption of cigarettes is another avenue available to governments to reduce the adverse health effects of tobacco use on the population. These efforts should be directed at reducing the daily consumption of cigarettes, at inhibiting the inhalation of smoke as much as possible, at not smoking the butts of cigarettes (the toxicity of smoke increases towards the end of the cigarette), at not keeping the cigarette steadily at the lips, and at adopting preferences for brands with lower tar and nicotine.
Measures of this type evidently do not reduce the number of smokers, but they do reduce how much smokers are harmed by their habit. There are arguments against this type of remedy because it may give the impression that smoking is not intrinsically a bad habit, since smokers are told how best to smoke.
Regulatory and legislative action by different governments is slow and not sufficiently effective, especially given what would be required due to the problems caused by tobacco use. Often this is the case because of legal hurdles against implementing such measures, arguments against unfair competition, or even the protection of the individual’s right to smoke. Progress in the use of regulations has been slow but it is nonetheless steady. On the other hand, the difference between active smokers and second-hand or passive smokers should be kept in mind. All the measures that would help someone to stop smoking, or at least to reduce daily consumption effectively, should be directed at the smoker; all the weight of regulations should be brought to bear against this habit. The passive smoker should be given every possible argument to support his or her right not to inhale tobacco smoke, and to defend the right to enjoy the use of smoke-free environments at home, at work and at play.