Ethics of Smoking: Advertising’s Effects

Philosopher Robert Goodin. from the University of Stanford recently published an article on the ethics of smoking and whether smokers were voluntarily responsible for their own actions and their decision to smoke. In my essay. i will decide on the merits of Goodin’s argument and whether or not they are valid or not. I will also give my own personal opinion on the ethics of smoking.

I disagree with Goodin’s opinion that smokers do not voluntarily accept the risks of smoking. In his first argument he blames cigarette companies for misinforming the public about the true danger of smoking. While advertising does play a role in promoting smoking, advertising has nowhere near the impact that Goodin would have you believe. Cigarette advertising today is restricted and strongly controlled compared to the way it used to be. Two of the largest mass mediums of advertising are television and radio and Congress banned the use of cigarette promoting advertisements in either of these mediums in 1971 with the passage of the Smoking Act. That leaves only magazines, newspapers and billboards for mass advertising. The advertising ban helped transform the image of cigarettes as a product hazardous to health and helped raise public awareness. In today’s society there are far more advertisements educating the public about the dangers of smoking than there are advertisements promoting it. In addition, the fact that all cigarette ads are required by law to have Surgeon General Warnings attached to them further educates the public that smoking is bad for your health. Goodin makes the point that the glamorous actors used in cigarette advertisements encourage cigarette use. I believe that most or all commercials ranging from detergent to real estate feature rich, glamorous or sexy actors in them but society still exercises its free will to purchase these products or not. A consumer determines if he needs or has a desire to buy a product based on personal decisions and preferences and not because a girl looks pretty in a magazine ad.

Goodin’s second point in his essay is that the general public is unaware of the true health risks caused by smoking. Although Goodin acknowledges that most people know smoking is unhealthy, he puts forth the idea that people do not consent to smoking I because they do not know the full risks involved with cigarette smoke. Goodin claims “consent counts – morally as well as legally – only if it is truly informed consent, only if people know what it is to which they are consenting” (Goodin 1989: 508). I believe that Goodin is mistaken. While I agree to a certain extent that most people do not know every side effect caused by smoking, almost every smoker knows what they are getting themselves into in terms of endangering their health when they take that first cigarette. No smoker in his right mind believes that cigarettes are healthy for him nor does he think that there isn’t a chance he might one day die from them. In a study taken of 1,046 people, (when and where?) ninety-four percent believed that they were adequately informed about the dangers of cigarette smoke and yet they chose to smoke anyway (Nicotine and Tobacco Research Volume Six 2004: 01). It is of little difference to them whether or not they know they will one day die from lung cancer or emphysema – the result is the same.

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