Saturday, May 15, 2004

Liberty going up in smoke

I just finished listening to a BBC radio correspondent interview the outgoing chairman of British American Tobacco, who apparently has done an excellent job of boosting the company’s profits. The chairman went on at great length about being a “socially responsible” tobacco company, about not limiting people’s freedom to choose to smoke, and about the World Health Organization’s supposed imposition of Western values in its campaign to limit smoking in developing nations. He faced incredibly sharp questioning by the interviewer, and admitted that smoking is addictive “in a conventional sense,” just like many other things are addictive, but that people still deserve the freedom to choose.

For semi-libertarians like myself, the question of whether people should be allowed to become addicted to cigarettes or heroin is a difficult problem. A hard-core libertarian wouldn’t have a problem – people have the right to do anything they want to themselves, no matter what the consequences are. But choosing to destroy one’s own freedom through addiction is tougher for those of us who take a common-sense approach to maximizing human freedom.

The point of maximizing human freedom is what distinguishes tobacco companies from all libertarians. All libertarians want more freedom, while all tobacco companies are trying to persuade their customers to become addicted to something and lose their freedom. The oh-so-British, oh-so-socially-responsible chairman of a tobacco company wrapping his company philosophy in libertarian trappings is disgusting. What they are trying to do burn away liberty, not protect it.

Side notes: the Social Responsibility section of BAT’s website is here. Under the youth smoking subsection, the FAQs basically deny that advertising plays an important role in encouraging youth to smoke. BAT, in other words, is scum.

BBC correspondents always question their interviewees more sharply than Americans do. I wish our leaders had to put up with that type of questioning – we might get better leadership.

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