I started to think today about smoking bans from the perspective of Idle Theory. Idle Theory measures everything in terms of people’s time – freedom, wealth, value, profit, money, prices, good, evil, justice. It’s a unified theory. It’s a bit like Utilitarianism with happiness or utility replaced by idle time. A quick résumé of Idle Theory:
In Idle Theory, people are regarded as alternating between being idle and busy working at essential life-maintaining tasks, and their “idleness” is the fraction of their time that they are idle. The individual shown below is 33% or 0.33 idle:
Idleness can range from 0 to 1, with 0 being completely busy (and on the threshold of death), and 1 being perfectly idle (an unattainable, divine state). Economic growth is growth in social idleness, whereby life gets more idle or easier for people.
Economic growth is mostly the product of technological innovation. The inventor of the first stone axe found that he could carry out many essential tasks (e.g. cutting down trees) much more quickly using his axe, thus increasing his idleness. The value of such a tool was the increase in idleness it generated over its lifetime. Its cost was the decrease in idleness required to make the axe over the period of its manufacture. A tool was profitable if its value exceeded its cost – something that allowed it to be sold at a price greater than its cost.
Economic growth brought increasing idleness. In their idle time people could do as they liked, rather than as circumstances demanded, so increasing idleness brought increasing freedom. And with increasing idleness people became able to engage in a variety of cultural activities – reading, writing, art, music, dance, games, and every kind of enquiry (e.g. science).
What was good was whatever increased idleness and freedom. And what was evil was whatever decreased idleness and freedom. If anyone did something which cost someone else some amount of their idle time, they should be obliged to repay it. Assault, murder, theft, vandalism, fraud, extortion, etc, all deprive some number of people some amount of their idle time, for which they should in justice be owed compensation from the culprits.
Now back to smoking bans:
The advocates of pub smoking bans maintain that they are beneficial because they protect people from diseases caused by environmental tobacco smoke. Dis-ease, as its name implies, is a lack of ease, or a lack of idleness. And the extreme of disease, like the extreme of lack of idleness, is death. Let’s not argue and instead suppose that these health claims are truthful, and that prior to the pub smoking ban in Britain 10 people per year died from inhaling environmental tobacco smoke (this is the sort of figure I’ve seen).
However this only considers health consequences. They neglect all other costs or benefits. Let’s start including some of the other costs.
Sitting in a pub, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes, is an idle time activity. So for Britain’s smokers, pub smoking bans curtail a freedom they formerly enjoyed. Smoking bans deprive them of an idle time activity. Smoking bans deprive them of idle time.
It might be argued that the idleness of Britain’s smokers is not reduced by forbidding them from smoking in pubs. There are plenty of other idle time activities that they can engage in, ranging from watching TV or playing computer games through reading books or going for walks. But if someone doesn’t want to engage in any of these alternative activities, but in their idle time wants only to sit in a pub with a pint of beer and a cigarette, smoking bans deprive them of many hours of idle time, as they are prevented from doing what they want to do.
Let’s get some numbers. Prior to the UK smoking ban I used to visit a local pub every day for an hour or so. Since the smoking ban, I only visit pubs in summer to sit outside in the gardens where smoking is still permitted. Over a whole year, I probably now average one visit to a pub each week – one seventh of my former rate. So the smoking ban costs me 365 x 6/7 or 313 hours of my preferred idle time activity each year. In fact the cost is even greater, because I must on each occasion also forfeit the extra cost of buying a drink inside and taking it outside. And in addition, I must quite often walk or drive an extra distance to find (and return from) a pub with a garden. If the sum of these extra costs is a quarter of an hour for each pub visit, this is an additional 13 hours/year cost to me. And I haven’t even added the extortionate ‘sin’ taxes I am made to pay for the tobacco I smoke, and all the various costs attendant on the social exclusion that comes with being “exiled to the outdoors”.
So if I just take the costs associated with visiting pubs, I am deprived of about 326 hours per year of my preferred idle time activity. And since there are some 10 million smokers in Britain, then if each of them suffers the same deprivation, that is a combined loss of 3.26 billion hours, or 136 million days, or 372,000 years per year before sin taxes and social exclusion costs are added.
Against this must be set the 10 lives that are saved each year thanks to the smoking ban. If a lifetime is taken to be 70 years, then the value of 10 lives is 700 years. And so from the the net cost to Britain’s smokers of 372,000 years of idle time per year, 700 years/year should be subtracted, to leave approximately 371,000 years lost per year. And since the UK smoking ban has been in force for nearly 9 years, the total loss to Britain’s smokers currently amounts to 3.3 million years of idle time.
And, given that the anyone who costs people their idle time should be required to repay it, Britain’s smokers are owed 3.3 million years. If this number is monetarised at £20/hour, it amounts to £385 billion, or £58,000 per smoker at £6500 per smoker per year.
Who should pay these reparations? If the government pays up such amounts, it will be with general taxes levied on entirely blameless taxpayers. Very arguably, the full burden should be placed upon the advocates of smoking bans in Tobacco Control. They should pay the £385 billion.
But most likely, Tobacco Control has only a fraction of the assets required to pay such a debt. The debt is simply too great to be repaid.
This is one way of getting a slightly more balanced picture of the effect of smoking bans. To treat them as if they were purely health-related and nothing else is to miss a far bigger picture. Smoking bans have lots of additional effects apart from on health. I haven’t even mentioned the costs to the hospitality industry.
If Tobacco Control were to be presented with the true bill for the smoking ban it called for, it would be bankrupted overnight. It would cease to exist.
Which is exactly what needs to happen to it.