About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Michael's Picks

by Michael De Dora

* Should we ban cigarettes? That’s what Robert Proctor argues in his forthcoming book Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition. You can read more about the case against cigarettes in this recent article by Peter Singer.

* The nonprofit research organization Public Religion Research Institute has released the 2011 American Values Survey, which gauges Americans’ beliefs on religion, values, and politics.

* The Catholic Church is now framing its fight against reproductive rights and marriage equality as a matter of “religious liberty.”

* Mississippi residents have rejected a constitutional amendment to change the legal definition of personhood to include fertilized human eggs. Yet let us not forget that there is still only one abortion clinic in the entire state.

* On a similar note, here is a comprehensive map of the world’s abortion laws, compiled by the Center for Reproductive Rights.

* Jonah Lehrer synthesizes a couple scientific studies that suggest humans are happier when wealth is more equally distributed rather than less equally distributed.

* A panel of experts commissioned by the Royal Society of Canada has concluded that assisted suicide should be legal in the country.


  1. Singer ends his half-rate article with this gem of a response to the criticism that a ban on cigarettes is as likely to achieve its objectives as Prohibition:

    "But that may well be a false comparison. After all, many smokers would actually like to see cigarettes banned because, like Obama, they want to quit."

    Hardcore analysis from the best Princeton has to offer. Give me a break...

  2. P.S. Michael, shame on you for linking to Singer's article.

  3. The religious survey reminds me of people wanting to "vote the rascals out of office," as long as it's everybody else's, and every other state's and district's, rascals that get voted out, not their own.

  4. I agree that Peter Singer's article is a remarkably weak piece from someone whom most of us here have come to expect better. He needs to take a look again at both the history of Prohibition as well as the history of bans on recreational drugs, both of which have been (and in the case of the bans on recreational drugs) ongoing examples of dysfunctional and counterproductive public policies. I see no reason why a ban on the sale of cigarettes or other tobacco products would result in a better outcome.

  5. Eamon, I think Mike's just "putting it out there" so to speak. He hasn't implied that such a prohibition is something he would endorse.

  6. As Michael said, I posted Singer's article because I thought it would make for interesting discussion.

    That said, I was also disappointed by Singer's article. It was sloppy, but also, I think one can make a sound case for banning cigarettes, and he does not make it.

    I'd be interested to hear how you all think we can drastically reduce the public's use of cigarettes without some sort of ban or restrictions.

  7. You seem to contradict yourself. You cant have it both ways: either you are for banning or not. Prohibition has never worked. Cocaine consumption is at its highest, despite the horrendous cartel wars; prostitution is growing in popularity, alcohol drinking thrives, the porn industry is one of the fastest growing everywhere in the world, and I see more younger people smoking now than before. Of course, Singer arguments for banning smoking are trivial and I wonder if it is a moral/ethical issue of social dimensions other than personal choice. Wanna a real target?: try pharmaceutical, oil industries, the weapons/war complexes. Guns. Cocealed weapons. Smoking? Please....

  8. What an unhinged title that anti-smoking book has.

    For a rational look at smoking, see here:


    "A panel of experts commissioned by the Royal Society of Canada has concluded that assisted suicide should be legal in the country"

    What if person wants to gradually commit suicide using incrementally ingested doses of burnt tobacco toxins?

  9. Wait: I contradicted myself? Where?

  10. Michael,

    right, I thought that it was perfectly legitimate to link to Singer's post, considering that it is pertinent and by a prominent philosopher. Though I can't believe he is actually advocating a ban.

    As for a solution, the only one that has worked so far: taxes. Which need to be kept in balance between discouraging people (especially young ones) and not encouraging a black market. It won't eliminate the problem, but it has reduced it significantly, for instance in Canada.

    And social stigma works too: look at the low level of smoking in New York, where it's no longer cool to light one.

  11. I don't know how much taxes helped reduce smoking up here in Canada but they certainly played an important role in creating a thriving and open black market in contraband cigarettes, especially in Indian reservations – where authorities seem very reluctant to intervene.

    Other measures include a ban on advertising (newspapers, magazines, television, etc.) - in place for a long time. More recently, it has become illegal to display cigarettes in stores: while they were previously shown on shelves behind the counter, they must now be hidden from view (at least in Quebec, I don't know for the rest of the country).

  12. Michael De Dora,

    The post script was a good natured gibe, nothing more.

  13. So, is it the general sentiment here that a multi-pronged approach -- taxes, bans on smoking in public spaces, regulations on cigarette advertising, and social stigmas -- is more likely to be effective than an outright ban?

  14. I smoked for twenty years; cigarettes, pipes and once in a great while cigars. I quit smoking nearly twenty years ago, at the time I had my first child. I don't miss cigarettes; sometimes, I have the urge to smoke a pipe.

    I don't blame my smoking on anyone (besides myself)or anything. I think it irresponsible to do so.

    Evidence that one may harm others by smoking indicates one shouldn't smoke around others. If one chooses to smoke while alone, that is his/her business to all but those who believe that others should think and act as they think appropriate. Singer's article is silly, unthinking and presumptuous, a throw-away. Perhaps he had committed himself to a deadline.

  15. The overall demand for tobacco is likely to be quite inelastic, thus the reduction of the quantity of tobacco demanded caused by sin taxes is probably limited.

    Bans in "public places" are vague. Do/should such places include sidewalks? Some public places can be subject to effective supervision by the authorities; others cannot.

    Is there an effective method for measuring the effect of regulations/bans on cigarette advertising? That would be one hell of an econometric undertaking: trying to determine the effect of advertising regulations while controlling for all the other variables.

    Stigmas obviously work, but its not as if governments can impose stigmas via legislation.

  16. Michael Labeit,

    actually there is pretty clear evidence that taxes work (again, the example of Canada), though as I mentioned earlier, one needs to balance that tool with the danger of a black market.

    And no, the government can't impose stigmas, but can help via smart educational campaigns (especially targets at the young).


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