Important Information About Smoking

Robert Goodin, a well known philosopher wrote an essay on smoking called “The Ethics of Smoking” in 1989, published by the Chicago Press. In a section of his essay entitled “Do Smokers Voluntarily Accept the Risks?” Goodin posits the idea that although a smoker may initially accept the risks of smoking at the moment he picks up his first cigarette he ultimately may educate himself on the dangers of smoking but will find it impossible to quit due to the addictive nature of tobacco and nicotine. In my essay I will detail Goodin’s full argument and discuss why I disagree that smoking is not anywhere near impossible to quit. Furthermore I will argue that people have full consent when they smoke that first cigarette. I will also describe the position of Daniel Shapiro, another philosopher whose opinion in his essay “Addiction and Drug Policy” published in 2003, I agree with.

Goodin argues that most smokers are not fully aware of just how harmful to their health smoking can be. Goodin’s argument is set forth as follows: He first examines whether or not the public has “informed consent” (Goodin 1989: 507) in connection with the adverse health effects of cigarettes. He blames cigarette companies for misinforming the public about the true nature of their products. While he acknowledges the health warnings on cigarette packs, he believes that advertisements using sports, the great outdoors and healthy looking actors create the image that cigarettes are not as dangerous as some people say they are. Goodin cites evidence from several surveys, such as a poll on lung cancer’s relation to cigarettes I (published when are where?), which shows that a majority of smokers don’t know the entire range of serious health effects caused by cigarettes. Finally, he states that the nicotine in cigarettes is addictive and creates “compulsive, repetitive behavior” (Goodin 1989: 509), making it extremely hard for someone to quit smoking. He defines addiction as the “absence of free will” (Goodin 1989: 509) that prevents the smoker from quitting.

On the other hand Daniel Shapiro argues in his essay (cite publisher and date published) argues that drugs should be legalized and that it is the pharmacological effect of “set and setting” that gets people hooked on drugs and cigarettes and not the result of addiction. He explains the importance of “setting” as the place and time in which a person becomes accustomed to a drug or cultural lifestyle and “set” as a person’s “mindset, personality, values, and expectations” (Shapiro 2003:517). According to Shapiro, it is the setting that impacts a person’s drug or cigarette use. He argues that drug use is a result of the social conditions surrounding an individual. I agree with Shapiro’s belief that cigarettes are not addictive and that people consentually build up a tolerance for cigarettes which causes a higher craving for them. I also agree that smokers are a product of their environment in which their culture and surroundings play a role in their decision to smoke and how often they smoke.

Goodin’s main argument is that smoking causes addiction which is the “absence of free will” (Goodin 1989: 509). However I believe that a person makes the conscious decision to smoke that first cigarette. No one is forcing that person to make the decision to smoke. Furthermore, it is not impossible for smokers to quit smoking as Goodin would have his reader believe. Cigarettes cause strong cravings but in no way do they cause a person to lose his will power or his free will. If a person’s desire is strong enough he can quit smoking. Let’s take the example of a woman who is pregnant. Her desire to bring a healthy baby into the world, free of the harmful effects of cigarette smoke, encourages her to stop smoking. An individual can also find alternative methods to replace the craving that he or she gets to continue smoking. There are many ways to quit smoking and alternatives that people use that it has become increasingly easier for smokers to quit in today’s world. Among the various options available are nicotine patches, nicotine gum, support groups, meditation, hypnosis, prescription drugs and self determination. Patches and gum have been used effectively to replace the craving caused by the nicotine in the cigarettes. Whenever a person has a desire for nicotine they chew the gum to get rid of the craving. The patch works the same way in that it reduces nicotine cravings each day (Wikipedia 2005: 01). Meditation and hypnosis have been used to transform the mind to believe that it is no longer craving nicotine. People have gone to hypnotherapists, doctors who use hypnosis for therapeutic means, and have actually been cured of cigarette cravings.

According to Don DeGrazia, a hypnotist for thirty-two years, his hypnotic seminars have been successful in helping thousands of people quit smoking in the Chicago area. DeGrazia states, “Hypnosis is a physiological and psychological phenomenon that can be aimed at losing the desire for cigarettes. The mind can forget about smoking or not smoking and return to a mindset before the person ever gave up smoking with none or very little withdrawal” (DeGrazia 2005: 2). Finally, self determination has been advocated by many people and many methods such as “Ten Easy Steps to Quitting” have been used successfully. People who like to smoke say they feel a sense of relaxation during times of stress (Health Promotion Board 2002: 01). Many smokers are just reluctant to give up the sensation they feel when they smoke. In using self determination or self-help methods an individual comes up with ways to overcome the urge to smoke that they personally find useful. Snacking on healthy foods can reduce the craving to have something in your mouth. Muscle relaxation or aroma therapy can also create a sense of relaxation that comes with smoking cigarettes. Lastly, the behavioral urge to take that daily cigarette break can be replaced with exercise, a hobby or a sport (Health Promotion Board 2002: 02). All of these alternatives and methods that help you quit smoking have been proven to be successful. Each of them demonstrates that if a person’s will is strong enough, they can find a way to quit smoking and that there is no absence of free will. Every person can make a conscious, voluntary decision to quit smoking – the choice is theirs to make.

My final criticism of Goodin is his position that most smokers start out as minors and therefore were below the age of consent when they started smoking. As an extension of this thought, Goodin posits that since they were unable to consent to smoking before they were twenty-one, then they were also incapable of consenting later in life since they were addicted by then. I disagree with this argument on two premises. As I have already stated I believe that a person can quit if their desire is strong enough at any time in their life. In addition, I don’t think that just because a person might be below legal age when they start smoking they aren’t consenting to smoke. Regardless of the reasons a person chooses to start smoking – a minor’s decision to smoke due to peer pressure or an adult who finds an escape from daily stress – they are able to make that conscious decision. If a sixteen or seventeen year old can be sentenced to jail for committing a crime, why is it so far-fetched to think that he or she cannot also consent to smoking a cigarette? (this makes no sense).

Goodin answers possible criticism to the arguments I have made by stating that the receptors in the brain are impacted by a chemical reaction to nicotine and create a behavior in an individual which causes them to crave the cigarette. He also cites a 1975 poll that reported eighty-four percent of all smokers have tried to quit at some point and out of that percentage only thirty-four were successful at quitting for at least a year (Goodin 1989: 509). Another major weakness in my criticism of Goodin (your’e criticizing yourself?) is the fact that many adults started smoking before the public was educated about the danger of nicotine. Prior to 1966, there were no surgeon general warnings, and cigarette companies were still allowed to run television and radio commercials to promote cigarettes. Finally, one could argue that since the withdrawal symptoms that an individual suffers from trying to go “cold turkey” is too great on a person’s mindset and the resulting effects are quite damaging on a person mentally and socially. Withdrawal symptoms that impact a person include irritability, anxiety; frustration, anger, difficultly concentrating, and increased weight gain (National Institute on Drug Use 2005: 02). Trying to quit smoking involves changing a major part of your lifestyle. For example, instead of taking a quick cigarette break during a stressful workday, a smoker trying to quit must overcome the urge to do so. Instead of feeling relaxed he will feel more stressful as he suffers from withdrawal.

The concept of whether a person voluntarily accepts to smoking after initially taking that first puff is one that has been highly debated by philosophers. Goodin asserts that nicotine addiction leaves a person without the free will to quit smoking while Shapiro affirms a belief that smoking is a result of an individual’s culture and location and that a person has the ability to quit whenever they choose. In my agreement with Shapiro and disagreement with Goodin that cigarettes are not addictive, I have asserted that if someone has a strong enough desire, they can quit smoking. While it may be hard, it is nowhere near impossible as Goodin posts; rather an attainable goal for an ordinary citizen.

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