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Yes, national governments have the power to end the sale of tobacco products. In some countries, local jurisdictions do as well.
Isn’t this prohibition?
No, this is about phasing out the sale of combustible tobacco products, not banning possession or use. “Prohibition doesn’t work” is an industry trope that is not based in fact. Sales of many other addictive substances like heroin and opiates are prohibited or very tightly controlled. While there is still some level of use, it is far less (and causes far less disease and death) than is caused by combustible tobacco products.
What about freedom of choice?
Nicotine is addictive. Most smokers wish they had never started smoking and want to quit but find it very difficult; their “freedom of choice” has already been taken away. And even though some people might “choose” to buy them, we don’t allow companies to sell toys that are choking hazards, or cars with defective airbags.
But since smokers are so addicted, what will they do?
Addictions are hard to break, and more than 2/3 of smokers want to quit. One of the first steps in addiction therapy is to separate the patient from the addictive substance. Studies show that reducing availability helps smokers succeed in quitting. Many smokers will need additional help, and any jurisdiction that seeks to phase out tobacco sales has an ethical duty to ensure access to cessation resources. For information on cessation resources, go to https://ash.org/cessation.
Won’t governments lose the money they get from cigarette taxes?
Governments shouldn’t need to depend on sales of a product that addicts and kills their own citizens. But in addition, the potential savings in health care costs dwarf any short-term loss of revenue. According to the CDC, smoking costs the U.S. over $300 billion annually.
Won’t smokers just turn to the illicit market, creating new opportunities for organized crime?
Spreading fear about smuggling has long been a tobacco industry tactic used to scare policy makers. The potential for illicit trade does exist, but can be mitigated in the way the policy is implemented, such as providing ample advance notice and ensuring access to cessation assistance.
What about the retailers who will lose business if they can’t sell tobacco products?
As smoking rates continue to drop, retailers will need to change their business models anyway. A phased approach that allows them time to develop new product
lines will help offset initial losses. Money not spent on tobacco products will be spent on something else.
But cigarettes are a legal product.
Products are inherently neither legal nor illegal – how and whether they are produced, marketed or sold is a question of policy. Many otherwise legal products causing far less harm than cigarettes – like lead paint and asbestos – are regularly removed from the market under consumer safety principles and laws.
Has this ever been done?
Tobacco sales have been banned in a few foreign jurisdictions, and there was a period about a century ago when several U.S. states banned tobacco sales. Many other dangerous products can no longer be sold in many places. Two cities in California are set to ban sales of tobacco products beginning in 2021, and other cities have begun discussing this option.
Is this initiative related to Philip Morris International’s “Delivering a Smoke-Free Future” rhetoric?
PMI’s campaign is purely a marketing stunt. If it were otherwise, they wouldn’t still be spending billions marketing combustible cigarettes and even introducing new brands. It’s time to call their bluff and start getting cigarettes, the single most deadly consumer product in history, off the market.
Hasn’t the world already agreed to a plan to end the tobacco epidemic through the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC)?
The FCTC has saved untold lives and driven down prevalence wherever it has been fully implemented. FCTC Article 2.1 encourages Parties to go beyond the treaty’s specific obligations. It has become clear that to truly end the epidemic, we must stop widespread commercial sales, which is not explicitly included in the FCTC. In essence, this is the next step of the FCTC. In countries that have not yet fully implemented the FCTC, it is still imperative that they do so.
What about alternative nicotine delivery systems (ANDS)?
There is a vigorous debate within the public health community on where ANDS fit in terms of public health. We can’t allow that debate to block us from addressing the products that we all agree cause the most harm and need to go – combustible tobacco. Phasing out the sale of combustible tobacco should be the floor. Some communities may wish to go further and address sales of other nicotine products.