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Surprising Science

Can I See Your Smoking License, Please?

Two researchers debate the pros and cons of licensing the right to smoke in articles published this week in the online journal PLOS Medicine.

What’s the Latest Development?

The online journal PLOS Medicine recently published dueling opinions on the subject of requiring smokers to obtain a permit or license. Public health professor Simon Chapman proposes a smartcard that smokers would pay for that would limit them to a maximum of 50 cigarettes per day averaged out over a two-week period. They would be required to present the smartcard when purchasing tobacco products, and both buyers and sellers would face steep fines for abusing the system. Chapman says that the license would be easy to get but its fees would vary in such a way as to encourage users to minimize their consumption or quit entirely.

What’s the Big Idea?

Global health policy professor Jeff Collin agrees with Chapman that something needs to be done to mitigate the effects of tobacco use on overall health. However, Collin argues that a license would further stigmatize already-beleaguered smokers (for whom smoking is an addiction) and draw attention away from the industry itself, which he feels is behind the prevalence of smoking worldwide. Currently many countries are striving to reduce smoking using a variety of methods, many of which, just like Chapman’s proposal, “would have seemed unimaginable a few generations ago.”

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