Limits of planning good health

Chris Flynn (May 2 letter, “Australia’s declining smoking rate“) seems to believe I’m a shill for the local agricultural interests here in rural Kumamoto based on my opposition to tobacco restrictions.

First, let me dissuade anyone of that opinion by saying Japan’s tariff regime for agricultural products is unfair and immoral. Anyone living in Japan should be free to buy rice, sugar or any other agricultural product from anyone in the world at any price the buyer and seller can agree on. The Japanese government should not be holding consumers hostage — forcing them to pay several times the global average price for staples like rice.

Regarding Flynn’s response, I would agree that I am making an assumption by linking a decrease in smoking to an increase in obesity. Unfortunately the full study cited in the original article is not available for free. However, Flynn is also making an unsupported assumption by stating that the decreased smoking rate is due to more smokers dying and fewer new smokers replacing them. Without empirical data, we are both just stumbling in the dark, so let’s call this point a draw.

My April 21 letter (“Consequences of health planning”) was more of a philosophical attack on centralized health planning. To focus the debate a bit more, I have a few questions for Flynn:

(1) What primarily drives his support for tobacco restrictions? Increased social costs, the risk to individual health or both?

(2) To what extent does he believe tobacco should be restricted? Should it be illegal altogether?

(3) Does he believe that all preventable causes of death warrant government intervention? If, for example, heart disease is caused by behavior (poor eating habits and lack of exercise), does he believe that government action is warranted to change those behaviors? If so, is there any limiting principle?

joseph jaworski
taragi, kumamoto

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.