Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Is Smoking Good For The Economy?

I read a vitriolic attack by Duncan Bannatyne last week on taxes and it is pretty clear where his opinions lie on smoking. Frankly, I think most people would agree with him - smoking appears to be on the increase again.

In a bizarre situation in the Hubei Province in China, Local Government officials have been ordered to smoke in order to boost the local economy. The edict has ordered them to collectively smoke around 250,000 packets. There are also fines if the officials do not meet their targets or are caught smoking rival brands manufactured in other provinces.

Even local schools have been issued with a quota for teachers. It puts a new spin on kids smoking - they might actually get forced to go behind the bike sheds and have a puff. Of course, this flies in the face of national anti-smoking policies as directed from Beijing but this is aimed at boosting local tax revenues.

There is even a 'special task force' to enforce the quotas and one teacher was put on an 'official warning' when rival brand butts were found in an ashtray.

Capitalism And Other Agendas

While this is one of the most odd scenarios you can imagine, it is not so stupid as it looks. Capitalism and its pursuit will, in tough times, almost certainly mean sacrifice of more progressive values like Green Policy, Carbon Emissions and the search for alternative energy.

Even we practice it. While we loaded up the budget with £500m for a new wind power project, we are supporting the car industry with a £2.3bn bail out. While we put more money into energy efficient homes, we put 2p on the duty for fuel. While we spend on large overt advertising for giving up smoking, we add some extra duty on cigarettes and alcohol - we actually want the extra revenue, not to stop smoking or drinking.

In fact, of the tax revenues raised from alcohol and tobacco, a large proportion helps balance the bill for treating people on the NHS. One could argue the jobs created by smoking in the tobacco industry and the NHS are good for the country just as we rush to save the car industries with bail outs and scrappage when we know the cars contribute to the CO2 emissions in the atmosphere.

Capitalism has the habit of trashing many progressive ideas. People will always find good arguments not to change. Just the other day over a beer, a friend said that there was new evidence to show climate change was a myth and that we are more likely to have a massive eruption of a volcano which will blot out the sky than the damage we are doing as humans. So the message was carry on driving, flying, switching on lights as there is no point in stopping a good thing.

When times get tough, logic goes out of the window. The fancy words from Darling and Mandelson on building a new 'greener' economy is just waffle, as in the same breath they support industries which cause the problems.

The Future Is Here

Some would argue we are beyond the point of actually helping the planet and that is terrible thought as a legacy of this generation. But when you think about it, it's true and there are good reasons to think it. We are fighting more wars around the world with more lethal weapons than ever, we are emitting more CO2 into the atmosphere than ever, we are consuming the world's resources at a higher rate than ever before and we still fight wars over owning resources that may kill future generations as we consume them.

Yet, having realised we have a problem, we do not let up. In fact, we moan and wriggle about the cost of alternative energy research and pay less into it than on current energy research and marketing, while we pay $5 trillion in an instance to save banks.

The future of the world is in our hands but we live for the here and now. Just as you might leave a place tidy after you have used it, the world needs to be on a better course after this generation dies. However, our priorities are nowhere near where they should be.

The madcap and stupid edicts by the Hubei Province officials are exactly the logic we all use. Our future generations may pay a far heavier price than our tax bills for their future because of it. They may not be able to live.

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