Thursday, April 20, 2006

Taxing to social justice

In today's post, i would like to rebut a conversation i yesterday had with two of my friends on state paternalism.
Our particular topic of discussion was the state's right to limit smoking in public places. It is generally agreed that the damage done by smoking to one's health is a smokers own free choice. Excise tax is used to cover the costs incurred on health care system and simultaneously demotivate people from smoking by making it more expensive.
However, the case is more difficult with smoking in public places, say bars and pubs, where also non-smokers inhale the smoke and thus damage their health. This also increases the spending on healthcare, which rightheosly should not be carried by all taxpayers, including the ones staying at home or visiting non-smoking cafes. The response imposed by many governments around the world has been to ban smoking in public places altogether. But this rises the moral dilemma of restricting the rights of an individual (the smoker) for the benefit of society. After all the smoker has already compensated for his vice through excise tax, why should he pay for the passive smokers as well?
The socially correct outcome could be reached when we admit that it is the non-smoker's free choice to go to a bar where people smoke. It is his decesion to be a passive smoker, as no reasonable person could claim that he or she is forced to go there. But as this decision incures a cost on the society (through health damages), the person should cover these costs through a tax. Thus we should also tax passive smoking.
The way to do it would be through ticketing entrance to smoking bars or, more feasibly, by issuing taxed licenses according to the their turnover or size. This would firstly rise money for the health care costs of curing diseases resulting from passive smoking. But secondly, it would also give a cost advantage for non-smoking places, motivating non-smokers to convince their smoking friends to sit down in a smoke-free bar instead.
Implementing such system would not be difficult as well. Today all bars that sell alcohol need a licence and you do not find people drinking booze in cafes that don't have one. Similarly, as smoking in a smoke-free cafe would result in high penalty or closure of the business as well as lost customers (who after all despise smoking), smoking would not be tolerated in places that do not pay for the license.
So here as everywhere, people should be made to pay for all the costs they incur to society, but they should be left free to decide what is best for them.

1 comment:

Kajar said...

I understand that the main point of banning smoking in public places is not the health of bystanders (then we should ban smoking in the street as well), but the health of the people working in those places, who don't really have a choice.