When regulators in America clamped down on cigarette smoking—after decades of lies and denials by the industry of its pernicious health effects—the industry simply went global. After all, there are 1.4 billion Chinese and nearly 1.3 billion Indians and many other countries with poor people who buy carcinogenic and addictive products.
As poor countries eventually prosper they are increasingly turning their attention to human capital, and the scourge of smoking. Hence the rise of taxes and regulations around the world. Yes, these actions are paternalistic and yes, it would be preferable for people to quit on their own, but in this case the bans to prevent kids from getting started and the heavy nudges to deter adults from smoking are warranted by the huge persuasive powers of the industry.
Recall that virtually every movie in the 1930s and 1940s depicted smoking as essential to transacting a deal—whether business or lovemaking. This wasn’t an accident: it was intentional product placement designed to imbed smoking in the culture. A 30-second public service announcement against smoking is hardly effective against this: it is like a BB gun against an M1 tank. And the Joe Camel ads were seemingly targeted directly at kids.
The New York Times reports today on the campaign waged by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to smother those attempts at improving health abroad. This is a sad real-guard action, a last-ditch attempt to save a dying and unworthy cause.