A License To Smoke
November 14, 2012

Australian Professor Proposes A Smokers License To Break The Habit

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Drivers´ licenses have helped to keep tabs on everyone on the road. Ideally, they also ensure that everyone on the road knows the basic laws and can operate a vehicle in a safe manner. These licenses are also seen as a privilege and are taken away when someone steps out of line, such as driving while drunk, failing to pay a traffic ticket, etc. Yet, for all the good licenses are intended to do, they´ve yet to reduce the amount of traffic deaths, the number of drunk drivers on the road, or the number of people driving without said license.

Yet, it is this same licensing approach that Simon Chapman from the University of Sydney in Australia hopes will help smokers kick the habit.

As detailed in this week´s PLoS Medicine journal, the “smokers license” is meant to not only limit the number of cigarettes a license holder can purchase, but also act as a continual reminder of the negative health effects of smoking.

According to Professor Chapman, this license idea acts on the premise that a prescription for pharmaceuticals is essentially a short-term license to buy drugs.

"In contrast to the highly regulated way we allow access to life-saving and health-enhancing pharmaceuticals, this is how we regulate access to a product that kills half its long-term users," according to Chapman.

"There would seem to be a case for redressing this bizarre but historically based inconsistency."

The proposed license would be a swipe card which keeps track of and limits the number of cigarettes purchased by the holder. The smoker would not only have to pay to renew their license every year, but they´d also have to answer a sort of questionnaire before they could renew. Some of these questions, according to the BBC, include:

“What fraction of smokers do you believe will die early because of their smoking?” and “A long-term smoker who dies from a disease caused by his or her smoking can expect to lose how many years off normal life expectancy?”

If smokers who sign up for the card decide to quit, they can turn in their license and receive a full refund on all license fees, as well as compounded interest. There is one catch, of course: Those who signify that they´ve given up smoking by turning in their card will no longer be able to apply for another one, a move which is supposed to keep quitters from joining the ranks of the puffers once more.

Chapman´s proposed licenses would also add further punishments to smokers and those that sell to them.

"Penalties for sales to unlicensed persons would be severe," said Chapman, "with the threat of the loss of a retail license, as is now the case for pharmacists supplying restricted drugs to anyone without a prescription."

This license proposal is debated in the PLoS journal, with Jeff Collin from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland arguing that this plan would be extremely difficult and expensive to implement.

“The authoritarian connotations of the smoker´s license would inevitably meet with broad opposition. In the United Kingdom, for example, successive governments have failed to introduce identity cards. If it´s very difficult to envisage health advocates securing support for a comparable scheme on the basis of a public health rationale, it is still harder to see why they should wish to,” argues Collin in the journal.

Collin also says these cards would only give more power to the tobacco industries, creating a government-mandated premium for their products while punishing the poor. Though he disagrees with the license proposal, Collin does agree that cigarettes should be more difficult to purchase than they are today.