FOR YOUR OWN GOOD by Jacob Sullum


The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health
Email this review


A somewhat predictable libertarian attack on antismoking efforts. Gadflies can perform an important service when public debate is one-sided. In this volume Sullum, a veteran journalist and senior editor of Reason magazine, assumes this mantle and boldly leaps into the ongoing tobacco wars but is only partially successful. On one hand, he presents a thorough overview of the history of tobacco use and efforts to restrict it, is straightforward about the dangers, and makes a serious effort to shift the grounds of debate from public health to political freedom. On the other hand, he’s too willing to focus attention on his opponents rather than on the issue, replicating the ad hominem and straw-man attacks for which he criticizes the antismoking movement. Sullum’s argument is that efforts to eliminate smoking are tyrannical and run roughshod over the traditional distinction between other- and self-regarding actions that classical liberals use to distinguish between behavior that should and should not be subject to public control. This is a legitimate concern that has been shoved aside too easily, and his charge of collectivism should not be dismissed as quaint and archaic. However, after clearing the smoke away from the fundamental issue of political values, he asserts his libertarian position rather than arguing for it. Without recognizing that some individual behavior is appropriately restricted, identifying the criteria that distinguish that behavior, and assessing where smoking falls in relation to those criteria, Sullum is just circling the issue his book needs to address. If, as Sullum sarcastically concludes, “freedom is the most pernicious” risk factor for disease and injury in the eyes of antismokers, a more disciplined analysis of smoking in relation to freedom is badly needed. (8 pages b&w photos) (Radio satellite tour)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-684-82736-0
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1998