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I am often conflicted with my feelings and empathy for people who smoke.

On the one hand I empathize with individuals who are addicted to smoking despite it's known deleterious effects - you can say, I for one also make harmful decisions that affect my health such as my daily coffee fix, or my lacklustre efforts to exercise. And I'm sure many are guilty of such choices that may cause harm to themselves.

On the other hand, I innately support governmental actions and policies to eliminate smoking, which incidentally means I support the actions to remove an individual's freedom or choice to smoke.

So I succinctly ask: is this hypocrisy excusable? Secondly, as a society, we create laws which discriminate against smokers, but essentially by taking away their freedom of choice to smoke, we are saving their lives, hence is this form of discrimination justifiable?

January 26, 2011

Response from Charles Taliaferro on January 28, 2011
Great question(s)! In reply, I suggest backing up a little. You describe your position as hypocritical and ask whether it might be excusable. If smoking is directly on a par (no better or worse) with your examples of abusing coffee and not exercising (or not doing so sufficiently), then I suppose there is an inconsistency that may be worrisome. The same point can be made about allowing alcohol legal use but banning cannabis. IF the two substances are equally dangerous (or good?), then why prohibit the one and allow the other? But there may be some differences in the cases you raise. "Contact smoke" can be a problem, but if so it seems very different from what might be called "Contact coffee fix" or "Contact lacklustre efforts to exercise." Also, smoking seems to direcly impair vital life functions / organs, whereas we seem to be less in danger of life-threatening harm with a "coffee fix" and only periodical exercising. So, I suggest that perhaps there is a principled way of distinguishing these cases and that you are not being hypocritical. Perhaps (and I write 'perhaps' as I am not sure) a clearer case of hypocricy is if you wanted to ban smoking to prevent harm to the smoker but you thought it perfectly fine to allow people not to wear seatbelts or bikers not to wear helmets. These cases may still differ (it is hard to imagine someone getting addicted to not wearing a seatbelt or helmet though though might become habitual).

For an excellent book on introducing restrictions on liberty, I highly recommend Joel Feinberg's Harm to Self.


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