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There was an article in the New Scientist  today (not available online, alas) talking about the horrendous effects of tobacco upon pretty much every system in your body. It also mentioned the effective ways of prevention - stopping advertising (*all* advertising), imposing bans on smoking in public places, and raising prices. This seems to make sense to me - I'm not a smoker and have no intention of becoming one, and although I shouldn't have a problem with people poisoning themselves in their own space, I dislike people doing it around me - even in the open air. So, I have no problem with these measures being imposed to 'encourage' people to quit something which is known to be harmful (and costs the NHS a fortune, and yes, I know the taxes help pay for that) and to prevent people starting. Of course, it doesn't affect me in any major way.

But it's a bit hypocritical.  I think I'd rather see something decisive like actually making smoking illegal than the halfway house of stopping advertising etc.  Half because it sweeps the problem under the carpet - we'll let you smoke, but only if you don't talk about it - and half because it's inconsistent with the stance on other drugs.  - Sally
Yes, I think I agree with that. I wonder what the official reasons are for not making it illegal? It might be that making it illegal is itself illegal, due to some silly mixing of rules... - SunKitten
Practicality.  You may be able to sell a ban on smoking around other people.  You may be  (well, were) able to sell a ban on advertising (Think of the children!)  -- but you probably won't be able to sell a ban on something that many many people enjoy doing.  --Vitenka

The related issue is that of petrol costs. Apparently there are some places in England - and not remote places either - where petrol costs more than a pound per litre (this is expensive, I'm told ;). People have grumbled about it. There are rumours about another petrol strike. And even if you don't drive, it will affect you - things that are brought by lorries to local shops will cost more if the petrol is more expensive , for example. And yet the pollution produced by cars is bad for the atmosphere and bad for us, in multiple ways (asthma, smog, etc). I found that, like with the smoking prevention measures, I don't really mind petrol prices going up, especially if it makes lazy people like me not take the car on unessential trips. Now I know that for some people, the cost becomes prohibitive to the point of not being able to own a car - and thus, possibly, losing a job - but on the whole, I think those two viewpoints are roughly consistent.

The thing is, people want to be able to afford things that they think they need to be happy.  And people are used to a very good, very busy standard of living.  Raising petrol prices just means that the poorer people suffer, and the rich people who are actually intelligent and articulate enough to put pressure on government about public transport don't really notice.  So while I'm against people using their car for unneccessary stuff, I'd hate more a two tire system where poorer people really couldn't afford to run a car at all. Sally
I'm not suggesting ways to have a better system, though goodness only knows we need one. I'm just wondering about the relatedness of the two measures. To be honest, I'd rather not be able to afford to run a car but have a decent affordable system of public transport (for goodness sake, if Russia can manage it why can't we?). But that and all the other debates are separate from this particular point - SunKitten
That particular typo is just too good to pass up (apologies to Sally)... I think a two tire system is the answer: everyone should take up cycling! --AlexChurchill, who'll stop spamming you now
Could petrol rationing be workable?  It would avoid Sally's problem, and there's also the hope that it would make people think harder about using the car. -- NickTaylor

(Damn editconflict...) A two - tire system? A typo (I think) in the realms of CategoryAwfulPun, although motorbikes are more fuel efficient in terms of mpg, if not life expectancy.  Seriously though, while petrol prices in the UK are exceedingly high relative to the US, or many parts of europe, being 75% tax, we generally pay less direct taxation as a proportion of GDP.  At least part of the problem is the over-reliance on the car.  Where are the local shops of 25 years ago?  All moved out of town, with the net upshot of needing a car.  So many people now live a very long way from where they work, with commuting by car being exceptionally common.  If you want to live in a leafy village and work in a concrete jungle then be prepared to pay the premium to do so.  Personally I do not drive, meaning I pay what I save in petrol and car tax/insurance as extortion in lives-close-to-work rent - the rent is more than the mortgage on the property would be, even at current market prices - but  despite being able to afford said rent I could not buy said house because I cannot borrow that much.  But that's another rant.  As a question, how much (as a proportion) of various wikizen's salaries is spent on petrol?  Is it really that much of your income as a fraction? Does a 2% increase in petrol prices actually cause you financial chaos?  --Jumlian
Zero, because I have a bike ;)  As I said - we need to radically alter our infrastructure if we want to downplay the car.  --Vitenka
And you always buy locally? Petrol prices affect more than individual car owners. Last night MoonShadow suggested raising the petrol price only for individual private use, which seems to sort that one out, but there's no way such a thing would get through - SunKitten
I live 20 minutes walk from an edge of town Tesco's, 25 minutes from the city centre Safeway's and 25 minutes walk from work.  I walk quickly, and Durham is small.  As to petrol affecting more than just car drivers, true. So why don't we sort out Rail freight properly and then get all of those hauliers off of the road?  Seemed to work in Sweden. Why have we allowed ourselves as a country to become so darn dependent on petrol anyway? --Jumlian

Are they consistent? Is it acceptable to enforce measures that dissuade people from smoking - an activity that, while incredibly harmful, is not illegal (a bit like some extreme sports, maybe ;) ? Is it acceptable to enforce measures that dissuade people from using cars - an activity that, while damaging to both people and environment, is not illegal and may even be a bit necessary, in some cases? Should the government just give up and let us all smoke/drive ourselves into oblivion? And if anyone approves of the one measure but not the other - why/why not?
Personally I think that smoking at least should be illegal, but the effect a ban would have on existing nicotine addicts would not be pleasant. Petrol is necessary in some situations, especially with the shoddiness of public transport. Thus, we can't actually ban either of these things. However, it is inappropriate to allow the market to reach equilibrium as both these goods have a social cost separate from the cost of the damn thing - if you paid for cigarettes without paying duties, you wouldn't be paying for the damage you're doing to other people's air quality and the burden you're putting on the NHS. Thus it isn't appropriate to leave things like smoking and petrol completely unregulated.
The economics people use demand and supply curves to model the purchasing of goods. To reduce the amount of something bought, there are two main approaches - shifts of either the demand or supply curve.
The demand curve is affected by things that change the status of the consumer. For example, more cash means that people can buy more goods, or buy them at a higher price. However, advertising about how evil smoking is will, if it succeeds, shift the demand curve downwards, reducing the amount that people are prepared to buy (it will also tilt the demand curve as fewer people will be willing to buy at any price, but that's another story). This method is being attempted. Other methods in this category which have been proposed include banning smoking in public and making it harder for smokers to get access to NHS resources. Note: these attacks also tilt the demand curve as they target smokers only. A non-tilting attack would be to tax everyone so they have less money for cigarettes.
The supply curve is affected by the behaviour of suppliers. The aim of the supplier is to position the supply curve to optimise the amount of profit being made from selling goods, by adjusting the amount made and the price they're sold at. This curve can be shifted by either changing the tilt of the supply curve or shifting it. The main way to change the tilt is to adjust the competition in the marketplace, so eliminating all but one tobacco company would result in a reduction in smoking. However, this would be hard to do without going against the principles of antitrust, and would certainly be impossible to do with petrol without endangering national security (this was the cause of Gulf War 1 of course).
Shifting the curve can be done by changing the optimisation equation. If a duty is levelled on all cigarettes, then the amount of profit gained from selling cheply in bulk is reduced - it becomes more productive to sell at higher prices which pushes demand down (assuming the demand curve remains stationary). Taxing the companies themselves would have little effect in this area, although it could lead to fewer companies (which is, you may recall, good for people who don't like cigarette smoke, but bad for those who don't like large companies).
So, overall the best ways to reduce consumption of a good with bad side-effects is to either advertise how bad it is or to slap duties on it. The former costs money; the latter earns money. Guess which the government prefers.
More info at this [economics basics] type site. - CorkScrew


Whenever debate on this subject erupts in a newsgroup, arguments based on certain assumptions seem to recur that in MoonShadow's opinion need justifying before the argument can be considered.

CongestionCharging seems to have actually worked, oddly enough.  Possibly only because the CostOfLiving? in London is high enough that the charge is small enough to be absorbed - but it went over without too much HueAndCry? and it has reduced petrol usage.  --Vitenka

Smoking and petrol really don't go together. No, I mean it.

Umm.  Why, oh why, is this a sub-page of PhoenixFeathersComments??? --K
HystericalRaisins  --Vitenka

SeeAlso: PetrolEconomics

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Last edited July 17, 2007 11:57 am (viewing revision 19, which is the newest) (diff)