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The OnlineClinic Health Blog Everyone for your health

A Smokers Licence: Will it work?

Posted in Personal Health 23 Nov, 2012

It is really fair to need a licence to smoke, in the same way that one must apply and subsequently pay for a licence to drive a car? A public health expert in Australia believes that by doing just this, the damaging effects of tobacco will be greatly reduced. The scheme would involve users having to apply and pay for a mandatory licence in the form of a smartcard, which would restrict a smoker's tobacco allowance and furthermore would have to be shown every time a smoker purchased tobacco. The licence would also have to be renewed.

Such a proposal taken may seem severe, but the health expert Dr Simon Chapman, from the University of Sydney, believes that by implementing such an action the possibilities to deter the people from smoking could consequently save a whole new generation from the harmful effects of tobacco smoking. But in order to reduce smoking, would such a policy be too extreme? And, more importantly, could it work?

Tobacco smoking in the UK

Around 100,000 people in the UK die each year from smoking-related illness. Cigarette smoking is actually the UK’s greatest cause of illness and premature death. Not only do many smokers develop serious health complications, many of which are life threatening, but also 50% of smokers will die from smoke-related diseases as a direct consequence of their addiction.

The health risks of smoking

If you smoke, you raise your risk of developing a number of serious health conditions, of which many can be fatal. According to the NHS, smoking causes approximately 90% of lung cancer cases, and can also include cancers of the throat, lungs, mouth, liver, and stomach, as well as other areas of the body. Because tobacco damages your blood vessels, heart and blood circulation, you will have a significantly increased risk of suffering from coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Smoking can also cause a man to suffer from impotence and likewise can cause fertility problems for both men and women.

Smoking Licence - A nanny state

Such negative and harmful risks as a result of smoking make me believe that in some way such an action involving the act of licensing cigarettes may help to promote smokers to quit, thus having a positive effect. However, as the proposal includes a smoker having to pay for a licence, wouldn’t this mean that the poor, or those from low incomes families, would be affected more?

Obtaining a licence would also include a test which a smoker would have to take in order to demonstrate his or her knowledge about the health risks associated with smoking. Jeff Collins, professor of global health policy at the University of Edinburgh, has argued against a smoking licence, claiming that such a licence would encourage illegal activity and could even promote smokers to “seek out illegal sources of tobacco if they chose to exceed their licensed allowance.” [BBC news]

A policy too far

Although at first glance a smoking licence proposal may seem like it could help to deter people from smoking due to the inconvenience of having to purchase a licence, which would effectively prohibit the amount a smoker can smoke, there are a number of flaws that would prevent such a scheme from succeeding. The fact that smokers would have to apply and thus purchase the licence means that the poor could be alienated. As Professor Collins said, it could also see smokers go to extreme methods in order to get tobacco and such a licence may not actually not deter smokers from smoking. The government has over the years brought in a range of procedures to discourage people from smoking, such as banning smoking in public places like bars, restaurants and the workplace to prevent passive/second hand smoking, to hiding cigarette packets from view in large shops earlier this year, with some success.

However, smokers know the risks; they see them everyday through various advertisements detailing the harmful effects of tobacco, to the shocking images of the effects of smoking on tobacco boxes - most of which do not influence whether a smoker will choose to smoke or not. The problem with the scheme is that smokers may feel like they are being punished rather than helped or offered treatment should they choose to give up. Many smokers may feel that if smoking is licensed than alcohol should too be authorised. Such flaws is why I believe that despite its good intentions, a smoking licence would not work.

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