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Is smoking immoral?

asked Jan 25 '11 at 12:18

snailskin's gravatar image


edited Jan 25 '11 at 16:17

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

I think the vast majority of people who smoke today are being evasive about the risks, but if one knows and accepts the risks, and has concluded that the values outweigh the risks, then I don't see how you can say that smoking is immoral for them.

You also have to consider the fact that smoking might not be so risky for some people. If someone is diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer and given a year to live, smoking might not affect that lifespan very much.

(Jan 26 '11 at 10:07) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Whatabout costs to society and potential harm to other by secondhand smoking?

(Jan 28 '11 at 11:17) snailskin snailskin's gravatar image

Setting aside the issue of morality to consider the legal aspects that have been raised: In general, if one person harms another in ANY rights-violating way, then that should be remedied/punished via the justice system (as in, torts and criminal law).

However, it is not a rights violation to make yourself sick by smoking -- it is merely irrational, which is your right. And it is not a rights violation to make yourself or your own spaces noxious so others don't want to associate with you -- again, it is merely irrational, which is your right to be. (And it is others' right to choose to not associate with you of course.)

On the flipside, it would be a rights violation to force you to not smoke when you are okay with the risks of doing so (nobody has the right to force you to take care of yourself). And it would be a rights violation to force you to make yourself or your space less noxious so others can more comfortably associate with you (nobody has the right to associate with you on terms you don't agree to, nor to use your spaces on terms you don't agree to).

Finally, if you go pollute someone else's space and make it noxious against their will, then of course that's a rights violation to be remedied/punished by the justice system.

(Jan 28 '11 at 12:30) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

"Finally, if you go pollute someone else's space and make it noxious against their will, then of course that's a rights violation to be remedied/punished by the justice system."

So factories which release toxic chemicals into the air should be remedied/punished by the justice system?

(Jan 31 '11 at 10:08) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Yes, if they poison you. Sorry, that line of the comment wasn't very precise.. There are actually a lot of subtleties in determining whether someone has harmed another in a rights-violating way with pollution of commons like air/water. Like: if you move next to a noxious pig farm, then you've got no issue because you went to it; but if someone suddenly installs a noxious pig farm next to your house, then that's likely a rights-violating harm because you are being denied normal use of your own property due to retching. :^) And then, what counts as poisonous/harmful is usually dose-dependent.

(Jan 31 '11 at 10:28) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Thanks! So, a tort remedy would only be justified if a specific instance of pollution can be proven (beyond whatever burden of proof is necessary for torts) to have caused a specific harm against a specific person (or a number of specific harms against specific people)? And not just a general harm against the public in general. I think that's how I remember reading Reisman's take on it, which was a real eye-opener.

(Jan 31 '11 at 10:40) anthony anthony's gravatar image
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Objectivists understand morality as "a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions -- the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life. Ethics, as a science, deals with discovering and defining such a code." ("The Objectivist Ethics" by Rand)

The morality of an act depends critically on how the person comes to choose it. So considering the morality of smoking amounts to considering: does smoking entail evasion of what the smoker can and should be attentive to? Is the smoker being actively irrational, closing his eyes to something important in his life, negligently breaking loyalty to his hierarchy of values?

Well, it obviously depends on what they are up to, and what they know -- or should know. What appears to be pretty well established at this point scientifically (and thus what smokers should know) is that prolonged and/or heavy smoking bears significant responsibility for serious health effects in most people, adversely affecting lives both in length and quality. While there appear to be (far too many) false and inflated claims about the ill effects of tobacco smoke, that serious smoking dramatically increases the odds of nasty illnesses like lung cancer and emphysema is well-established.

So the bottom line from my perspective is that smoking per-se is neither moral nor immoral, and that it depends on the form it is taking: For example, occasional "social smoking" does not appear to be any obvious risk. And even choosing regular exposure to "secondhand smoke" could be quite irritating and/or disgusting, but it likewise does not appear to pose any obvious health risk. However, prolonged or heavy smoking ordinarily appears to entail evasion of well-established, significant threats to the smoker's values for the sake of their short-term pleasure. I think this last would constitute immorality.

(And because people are often unclear about the proper role of government and the relationship between morality and rights, I must hasten to add: Of course it is the smoker's right to lead his life as he chooses. Laws interfering in "capitalist acts among consenting adults" concerning the production and trade of smoking products -- or laws forbidding a person to smoke in their own space or to permit others to do so -- would themselves be deeply immoral institutionalized rights violations.)

answered Jan 28 '11 at 14:29

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

edited Jan 28 '11 at 15:11

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Asked: Jan 25 '11 at 12:18

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Last updated: Jan 31 '11 at 10:41