Clear The Air News Tobacco Blog Rotating Header Image

Licensing Smokers A Healthy Option

The Courier Mail – July 7, 2008 – Professor Simon Chapman

You need a licence to drive. A licence to buy a gun. You can’t legally go fishing without a licence, or own a dog. But smoking?

Provided you are over 18 you can buy as many cigarettes as you like – no questions asked. Why not license smokers?

After all, doctors issue tens of thousands of temporary licences every day in the form of prescriptions to allow us to access drugs that can save lives and improve health.

Critics scoff at the idea, arguing that there would be too many difficulties in policing it, or that an underground market for cigarettes would develop.

Given that obtaining a licence for other activities is so straightforward, these arguments hold little weight.

Introducing a smoker-licensing scheme could be readily managed by allowing all current adult smokers over the age of 18 to acquire a permit. To be eligible, smokers would need to have their doctor affirm that they are smokers and then apply for a photo ID swipecard.

Any new smokers wanting a licence after the scheme’s starting date would be required to take a test, proving they fully understood the many health risks of smoking.

ID cards could be swiped at stores to limit the number of cigarette packs that could be bought at a time. Two packs a day maximum, say. This would help to minimise a blackmarket of cigarettes being sold on to unlicensed or under-age smokers.

And, just as for a driving licence, smokers would need to renew their commitment to smoking every five years. Or, if a smoker successfully quit they could permanently surrender their licence and be offered a full refund of their licensing fee, another incentive to quit. Tourists could show their passports and return tickets and be allowed to buy.

Most smokers want to quit. Nearly all regret starting. As part of the licensing scheme, smokers could have the option to sign on to receive Quit smoking information or be regularly contacted by Quit counsellors. This support would be directly funded by the licensing scheme and quash concerns that it is nothing more than another cash cow for the government.

Smoker licensing could first be trialled in an interested remote or small community. Evaluating and altering the scheme as necessary before rolling it out nationally just makes good sense. Critics could rest easy knowing a failed trial will make little difference to most smokers.

Smoking kills some 15,000 Australians every year, half in middle age. Compare this with the annual road toll of 1600 deaths.

We license drivers because we recognise that safe driving requires skills and experience. Licensing smokers is a way of ensuring that all smokers have a competent level of knowledge about the wide range of potentially fatal health effects. Licensing smokers is just one more way of reducing the tremendous health and social burden of tobacco use.

Even tobacco companies should love the idea because no one could sue, saying they didn’t know the risks they were taking: they would have passed the test.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>