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“An Active Response to Addicted to Health” by Robert Bork

Introduction

The article entitled “Addicted to Health” by Robert Bork (1997) contains sharp criticism of governmental policies in tobacco use regulation, and although it operates with facts and provides valid and reliable evidence, the writing is nevertheless one-sided in terms of both assumptions and their confirmations. The paper is intended to provide an active response to Bork’s ideas and opinions.

The consumption of alcohol

The first doubtful assumption is the way the author compares the consumption of alcohol to the use of automobiles: “Automobiles kill tens of thousands of people every year and disable perhaps that many again.” (Bork, 1997). The author supposes that alcohol abuse is as destructive to the consumer as the use of car to the driver, but it is important to remember the basic point of danger: non-drivers or drivers, who observed all corresponding rules, constitute a huge percentage of incident victims, whereas the primary victim of spirits is the user or abuser, in much fewer cases – the misuser’s close surroundings, who might be injured as a result of domestic violence. This means, the car driver is not able to control their life, as there are several unpredictable ‘side factors’ like the ‘road behavior’ of other vehicle owners, whereas the person, who decides to drink spirits, is allegedly responsible for the outcomes alcohol use might bring about, as this individual is aware of all effects, including health and coordination risk. Furthermore, Bork asserts: “We could easily stop the slaughter [road incidents]. Cars could be made with a top speed of ten miles an hour and with exteriors the consistency of marshmallows” (ibid). Such a rigid speed limit is likely to cause additional problems, associated with traffic jams and the need for redesigning highways. These two logical fallacies are likely to result in the conviction that individual responsibilities for driving, alcohol use, and driving are equal in terms of potential harm.

The notion of social responsibility

Another challengeable argument, developed by the author, is his criticism of the notion of social responsibility; “The industry is also required to pay $308 billion over 25 years, in part to repay states for the cost of treating sick smokers. There are no grounds for this provision. […] This $308 billion, which takes from the companies what they have won in litigation, says, in effect, that no one assumed the risk of his behavior” (ibid). On the other hand, tobacco producers and distributors are aware of the fact that they sell cigarettes, which might cause serious health problems, including strong habit and addictive behavior, which change human cognition and eliminate any abstinence from tobacco use; this dependency might finally thwart human spiritual and social development. Furthermore, smokers might not have expected such harm, as most warnings against nicotine use point to the threat of cancer or respiratory system diseases and do not include the aforementioned psychological side effects, so this $308 billion refund is a material contribution to social responsibility for public mental, psychological and physical health.

Prohibition of smoking is redundant

The scholar also claims that smokers, who die early, useless human services and therefore are unlikely to drain government budget, so the prohibition of smoking is redundant: “When lowered pension and Social Security costs are figured in, it seems certain that government is better off financially with smoking than without it” (ibid). This position is utilitarian and to great extent inhumane: in this sense, it would be more useful to allow euthanasia for mentally disabled or fatally ill individuals, but such acts are unethical and contradictory to the overall national course towards humanization and nurturing morality and mutual responsibility. The introduction of such policies will naturally cause nationwide public dissatisfaction, so the calculation, presented by the author is inapplicable rather than cruel.

One more doubtfully valid argument is bork’s superficial generalization in terms of the motivation for smoking teenagers: “Studies have shown, moreover, that teenagers are drawn to smoking, not because of advertising but because their parents smoke or because of peer pressure” (ibid). On the other hand, official evidence (Snyder et al, 2006) suggests that about 30 percent of teenagers begin to smoke under the influence of tobacco advertising (beyond peer pressure, which acts as a catalyzer of nicotine use), as most ads position cigarettes as a tool of achieving ‘coolness’ (or unique style) and establishing sincere friendly and romantic relationships. This means although media impact is not the most powerful motivator for tobacco consumption, this factor should also be taken into consideration, as in the future the corresponding restrictions will protect thousands of young people from nicotine dependency.

Finally, the scholar questions the dangers of secondhand smoke: “The difficulty is that evidence of causation is weak” (Bork, 1997). The author doesn’t mention or refer to the related research, but only declares their poor credibility. On the other hand, studying the topic more profoundly 9 Snyder, 2006), one might conclude that secondhand smoking, according to the latest studies, might also cause genome mutations.

Summary

To sum up, although the main notion, revealed by the author, is generally reasonable: additional regulatory policies are necessary, Bork’s argument is to great extent subjective and reflects the interests of ‘conscious smokers’, whereas there are several smokers, who cannot be characterized as ‘aware’ or ‘knowledgeable.

References

Bork, R. Addicted to Health. National Review, 1997. Web.

Snyder, L., Milici, F., Slater, M., Sun, H. and Strizhakove, Y. “Effects of Tobacco Advertising Exposure on Smoking Among Youth”, Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 160, 2006: pp. 18-24.