“I renounce receiving money to safeguard your health.” a beautiful phrase all good parents would say to their children. Imagine the astonishment, anger, and disappointment if it came out, in the end, that the same people were receiving a percentage from those who gave their families something that made them ill, even seriously ill, to the point of causing their death. How should one read their opening lines? Madness? Wickedness? Hypocrisy?
Well, this is precisely what the State has always been doing. Via taxation it obtains an income both from tobacco sale and from gambling. Scratch and Win, lotteries, slot machines, whatever makes it glean cash. A slogan is enough to exonerate its conscience from responsibility: “Play responsibly,” proclaims the campaign against ludo-pathology. It does not state “do not gamble”. The same goes for cigarettes: a nice statement on the packet which says “smoking harms you and people around you”, perhaps accompanied by shocking images of the consequences nicotine has on human body, and the problem is solved. Yet, on the other hand, there is a revenue of thousands of billions that make the difference in the budget of a State.
This is why the last prohibition, namely to smoke in cars when there is a child or a pregnant woman, sounds like yet another joke. We must understand that if smoke is harmful, it is better to eliminate it. If the gambling enslaves, it should be eradicated.
A sensitive topic, because it triggers counter-controversy on liberalization and contraband control. It applies both to cigarettes and gaming: legalization – they say – is the best way to defeat crime. In the immediate future it might be true, but it is not the solution. Otherwise, following the same principle, everything should be liberalized. Yet, it would not be a conquest but a defeat for the State whose duty is to provide rules to social coexistence.
There is another path which could serve to defeat mafias and safeguard health at once: to work on the cultural growth of a people, explain the new generations – with scientific data at hand – how harmful smoking can be. Setting the good example, acting as a point of reference, making precise and intelligible choices; not being double-faced.
And, still talking about data at hand, the State could also reflect on the costs: between diagnostics, diseases, health care and lost work days, cigarettes cost to society is the equivalent of what it collects via taxation. A folly, also in economic terms. And thus not only health, but also money… go up in smoke.