Care for a smoke?

Why does the state permit people to kill themselves slowly by smoking cigarettes but not in one go? It would appear that we have ‘pocket’ ideologies, changing for every scenario.

Sachal Afraz July 20, 2010

I recently questioned the state’s right to dictate how we treat ourselves. If the majority feedback I got is at all representative (and the recent PG status of the nikahnama would suggest that it is), then we as individuals feel the need to be intensively governed. We feel that the care we take of personal health, or the safety measures we take to maintain it, should be the concern of the state.

I would like to extend this argument to smokers. Should the state outlaw smoking? While some safety measures like the seat belt are debatable in their efficiency, smoking has no positive effects at all. A person sitting in his room and smoking is actively harming himself, and by our established majority ideology, should be stopped. But suddenly the majority opinion shifts, suddenly we hear the argument, “what I am doing to myself is my own business”. Personally I agree with this notion, and it is the strongest defence a smoker can offer. But let me take this golden argument and step it up a notch. What if a person wants to cut himself? Or commit suicide? Is it still “his own business,” or does the state now come into play?

I realise that it is an extreme measure, but smoking can very easily be defined as a diluted form of suicide. Doctors estimate that each cigarette shortens a person’s life by 11 minutes. So while a smoker forgoes his life 11 minutes at a time, a person committing suicide does it all at once. The effects of smoking may not be as instant, but even the manufacturers agree enough to print on their boxes: ‘SMOKING KILLS’.

So it would appear that we have ‘pocket’ ideologies, changing for every scenario. This makes it very easy to define our own actions as ‘correct’ and those of others as ‘wrong’. But consistency of thought raises questions to which there are no comfortable answers. Should a person be free to do to himself what he pleases, or should the government continue to play nanny? Should we outlaw smoking, or should we remove the legal penalties of attempting suicide?

Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2010.

Sachal Afraz A graduate from the Lahore University of Management Sciences currently pursuing post-graduate studies at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, Australia.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Michelle | 12 years ago | Reply Hi, I think that your argument is not flawless. Suicide is considered to be a sing of a mental illness (yes, there can be some exceptions); at least of a severe deppression which should be treated. Smoking is no more a suicide than eating hamburgers or drinking alcohol. It may or may not harm you. In addition to that, a smoker decides to smoke and take a risk because he or she gets something for it - pleasurable social interaction or stress relief etc. Best, Michelle
Farqaleet Kirmani | 13 years ago | Reply Seat belts vs Smoking! 10 out of 10 for consistent thinking and logic Sachal! So for those 1% who are consistent in their arguments, the question is basically about whether the govt should be allowed to enforce law on personal choices? If yes then where should the line be drawn beyond which the govt should not have the right to enforce it's opinion on the individual choices? Adding another important ingredient like religion will certainly spice things up much more :). Maybe it's that "extra" ingredient that may help us in coming up with a complete answer to the question, especially in the active-self-harming case.
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