Michael Adams in The Economist’s Voice argues that tobacco companies should be taxed additionally to recoup the statistically-estimated costs of smoking by minors (subscription required). This would mean that cigarette producers would have no incentives to promote their products to young people and since most people start smoking at age 18 or less (the average age in Australia is 15.9 years) this would substantially reduce smoking.
I wonder if this is a sensible suggestion. In most developed countries there is no opportunity to market to minors since advertising of cigarettes is banned or should be. In most countries also sale of cigarettes to minors is prohibited with hefty potential fines. In Australia a substantial level of cigarette sales to minors still does occur which suggests that penalties and enforcement are not up to scratch.
Moreover the only effects here are supply effects when one really needs to deal with demand by young potential smokers.
Over the years I have made a number of proposals to eliminate smoking within a generation by confining smoking to those already addicted.
My suggestion is to register cigarette users as nicotine addicts and to make cigarettes legally available only on the basis of a GPs prescription that would require a cotinine test. To reduce the outrage that smokers might register at this suggestion the current excise on cigarettes should be held fixed for a few years. Then it would again increase.
Supplying cigarettes to those not authorised to smoke should be considered in the courts as supplying a dangerous drug and hefty fines should be imposed.
Current cigarette bans should be intensified to exclude all smoking that has any impact at all on non-smokers. Smoking in all buildings and in cars with children is now banned in most states.
Duty free cigarettes should not be admitted into Australia and visitors who smoke should be able to bring only a few packets of cigarettes with them and perhaps a permit to purchase cigarettes for up to a two-week period from pharmacies.
Migrant applicants who reveal, through cotinine tests, that they are smokers should not be considered for entry to Australia. We can achieve a less socially-costless migrant intake by excluding smokers.
Of course the anti-smoking message should be pursued by the media and subsidised health and quit campaigns – particularly directed to indigenous Australians – should continue to be part of the policy mix. Firms should be encouraged to help smoking employees quit the habit and health insurance companies should charge a substantial premium to ensuring smokers.
That package of policies should get rid of smoking in one generation.