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Fixin' Healthcare

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Lifestyle Chronicles - Lethal Habits & Addictions

The campaign against smoking goes on and on. It demonstrates the difficulty eliminating habits and addictions even when they are hazardous to health.

Last November the voters of Washington State overwhelmingly approved a ban on indoor smoking in public places. Additionally, the ban requires smokers who light up to stay at least 25 feet from the door of any such place. The ban was implemented in December. Officials in Washington say it is the toughest anywhere in the country to be adopted statewide. Smokers are complaining and businesses are trying to respond by building smoke shacks.

Spain has an antismoking law that went into effect this year. Smoking is banned in workplaces and restricted in many bars and resturants. The New York Times provided the opportunity to "vent" for one Spaniard who thinks this is an example of the state trying to regulate citizens' private lives and customs. He draws analogies with sunbathing, mountain climbing and the need for health warnings on automobiles. And, it is implied the government encourages smoking for the revenue generated through taxes. (I wonder if the editors really intended this when they gave him the rope.)

It is doubtful, even in Spain, that taxes on cigarette sales come close to providing for the health care costs attributed to smoking. However, it is one of those situations where the revenue should be restricted to health care and/or smoking cessation programs. So far, most states have not even restricted the tobacco suit funds for those purposes.

Education is the answer and it needs to start early. Reducing and eliminating unhealthy habits and addictions calls for society to cultivate cultural and social capital. Laws and law suits may help but they are hardly the solution. When there is no market, farmers will have no reason to grow tobacco or companies to manufacture cigarettes unless the government in its wisdom chooses to subsidize the effort.

Prevention is the toughness to survive and prevail. It is patience, persistence and constantly answering the bell for the next round.

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