Thursday 2 November 2023

Panglossian prohibitionism

A question in the House of Commons last week:

Kevan Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what assessment he has made of the potential impact of Government policies on ending cigarette sales to those born on or after 1 January 2009 on the sale of tobacco products in the black market.

Neil O'Brien: No assessment has been made. History shows whenever we introduce new tobacco control legislation and regulations, illicit tobacco has decreased, due to strong enforcement. Consumption of illegal tobacco has gone from 17 billion cigarettes in 2000/1 to three billion cigarettes in 2022/23.

O'Brien's answer, which was doubtless fed to him by Department of Health fools, is highly misleading and it is astonishing that the government has given no thought to what will happen to the illicit trade when tobacco is banned.

I have written about this for The Critic.
It would not be a black swan event if the prohibition of a popular product led to a certain amount of under-the-counter activity. You may have heard about what happened with alcohol in the USA between 1920 and 1933. You may be familiar with the war on drugs. You may even know what happened when Bhutan banned tobacco (it didn’t go well) or when South Africa temporarily banned cigarettes during the pandemic (ditto). Banning the sale of tobacco without assessing the impact on the black market is like giving car keys to a drunk without assessing the impact on pedestrians. 

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