Rather than advertising the harmful effects of cigarette smoking on the box, why hasn't any government just banned the selling of cigarettes in their respective countries? Doesn't it solve the main problem?

4 Answers 4


A government can try to ban anything, but in case of tobacco there are various reasons not to.

  1. There are people who insist on their right to smoke. They might tolerate state-imposed health-advise, but being entirely prohibited from smoking might cause them to no longer vote for the politicians who supported the ban.
  2. There are economical interests. Forbidding companies from selling them would mean that those people who work in cigarette production, distribution and sales would lose their jobs.
  3. Many countries impose an additional tax on tobacco products which generates quite a lot of tax income. Banning smoking would cause this income to disappear, which would mandate cuts on government spendings or a higher deficit. Yes, this is indeed a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, the state introduced the tax to discourage people from consuming a specific product, but on the other hand, the existence of the tax motivates the government to encourage people to consume more of it.
  4. As the US alcohol prohibition in the 20s or the current world-wide drug prohibition proves, banning any kind of intoxicant does not work very well in practice. It leads to a hard to control black market which requires significant government resources to suppress. Black trade with illegal luxury goods is also a catalyst for organized crime-syndicates to form which then tend to commit various other crimes.

For these reasons, most governments refrain from outright banning smoking, and rather use a long-term strategy of gradually undermining social acceptance. Making the society aware of the risks through advertising is one part of the strategy. Gradually imposing more and more bans on smoking in public places is another, because seeing less people smoke in public makes smoking appear less like an integral part of our culture.

  1. It doesn't seem like a state-enforced ban when everyone in your surrounding tells you not to smoke. You might not enjoy being a social outcast, but you are unlikely to make the government directly responsible when they still theoretically allow you to smoke as much as you want.
  2. Companies have time to react on the gradual decline in tobacco sales and move to other markets.
  3. The government also has time to adapt to the gradual decline in tobacco tax revenue.
  4. It might actually work and not just turn the legal tobacco consumption into illegal tobacco consumption of the same volume which then needs to be suppressed by law enforcement personnel which needs to be hired for this purpose.
  • While I generally agree with your answer, I do not believe your point 4 is a really valid reason mainly for two reasons: alcohol is easy enough to produce at home (you can literally make it out of poo), but tobacco doesn't grow everywhere - it would have to be smuggled. But tobacco would be a pain to smuggle - low value per weight and even worse value per volume. So I believe prohibition would work pretty well in significantly reducing smoking and not lead to any notable crime-related issues. Your other points still remain though. Feb 6, 2020 at 9:04
  • @ZizyArcher Smuggling cigerettes is actually already a thriving illegal business. Even though cigarettes are legal, people smuggle them in large quantities just to dodge the import tax.
    – Philipp
    Feb 6, 2020 at 9:17

One country has banned them: Turkmenistan.

  • Why the down votes? There are multiple sources for this.
    – Tanath
    May 26, 2016 at 17:18
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    You got the downvotes because you are not answering the question. Just stating the fact that one country banned cigarettes without any further background information does not offer any explanation why the rest of the world doesn't do the same.
    – Philipp
    Jul 6, 2016 at 13:37
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    That wasn't the question though. The premise is incorrect so I did address the question.
    – Tanath
    Jul 6, 2016 at 19:34
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    You my upvote for finding this rather obscure bit of info, but it's only a minor chink in the OP's question, which could be phrased/understood as: why haven't most governments banned smoking? Generally, for minor assumption corrections like that, it's best to leave a comment under the question. Apr 18, 2019 at 0:12
  • Fair point. I will in the future.
    – Tanath
    Apr 18, 2019 at 20:59

I really liked Philips answer, and will only add two other thoughts to it

1) For countries with good social safety nets the cash savings on retirement benefits, long term care, etc may be more than offset by the medical costs of lung cancer. After all, it costs a lot to keep up with the ever-lengthening life span of people. It's like corporations investing in "dead peasant" insurance policies on their staff hoping that the actuarial averages work out in their favour.

2) Is it the government's responsibility to restrict behaviour with a potential for self-harm? Is it their job to bubble-wrap us and protect us from ourselves? What next - force you to exercise and monitor your diet for proper composition?

There is a public interest ins smoking primarily because of second-hand smoke. It's why restrictions on where you can smoke are in place. Like the old saying goes, my right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins. Or, in this context, my right to pollute my lungs ends where your lungs begin.

And I say that as an ex-smoker who can't tolerate people smoking around me. I just respect their right to go do it somewhere that isn't around me.

  • 4
    I'm sorry, but I have to comment that you could easily say all this about any kind of currently illegal drug. Apr 30, 2015 at 14:57
  • @PointlessSpike - if you consume an illegal drug near other people, there's no effect on them (aside from alterations to your behavior from the drug, ala PCP but that's a different story)
    – user4012
    Apr 30, 2015 at 17:02
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    @DVK I don't know of any long-term studies for them, but I'm willing to bet a few of the other smokable drugs have ill effects on those nearby. I imagine exposure isn't nearly so high (long-term), but dose-for-dose I'd bet some are worse for you than tobacco. Judging from the smell alone (like burning plastic IMO), crack smoke would be terrible.
    – Geobits
    Apr 30, 2015 at 17:27
  • @PointlessSpike, true - but the question asked was about banning it due to "the main problem", which was alluded to by reference to warnings. The "problem", in that case, being medical. I would argue that cigarettes not being illegal and so create jobs and tax revenue are not the same as other illegal drugs, nor do they have many other "problems" associated with many other illegal drugs. A smoker, for example, tends not to suffer the economic harms that have social costs as a heroin addict as it tends not to impair abilities in the same way, so they have less burden on social programs. Apr 30, 2015 at 17:33
  • @MichaelBroughton, I'd dispute the idea that it would be worse than it is now, in the long-term. People would just be forced to use common sense rather than the government trying to stop them. Social selection would take care of the rest. Sorry if I've politicised this but I couldn't resist. May 1, 2015 at 10:31

Note that besides the health hazard, cigarettes also bring some benefits to their consumers. I would mention mostly the easier communication and sexual attractiveness.

  • With cigarettes you have more pretexts to start a conversation with a girl (ask for a cigarette or fire), and also a girl has more pretexts to start a conversation with you, without saying directly "man, I like you, lets talk".

  • With cigarettes you can more easily fill a gap in a conversation without it seeming like you had nothing to say.

  • Tobacco affects consciousness in such a way that some people may feel it is easier to find words and be more tranquil when speaking in situations where without tobacco they would be unsure, restricted or nervous. This is also true for alcohol, which usually facilitates intercourse.

  • Tobacco gives possibilities to informally converse with colleagues and superiors at work, during a break. This allows to build closer relationships with them and also to discuss work-related or personal issues not directly connected with your current task. It would be difficult for some to just enter the boss' room without calling to discuss some abstract ideas about work, while it would be totally OK during a smoking break.

  • The smell of smoke is pleasant to many people (that's why the food is often smoked). This smell can kill unpleasant smells of (unhealthy) teeth, sweat and also more pleasant to many than the odor of bubble gum or cucumber water.

  • Smoking women look more approachable to men, this removes the image of a "strictly-educated", stuffy girl (alcohol, make-up and a sexy dress also work to this function).

Unless these social functions can be totally substituted with other means, there still will be the need for tobacco. The health hazard is a disadvantage, the improved communication is advantage.

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    I downvoted your answer because I think that none of the points you mention are in any way relevant to politics.
    – Philipp
    Jun 23, 2014 at 15:43
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    None of your claims of benefits have sources, and they really need them. This really does not address the question of why no government has banned them when they clearly have negative health benefits. Jun 23, 2014 at 18:00
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    @Anixx - I am not arguing that it should be banned just saying that this answer lacks the explanation of why they have not been. This answer fails badly there. though worse is your unsourced claims of positive aspects. Jun 23, 2014 at 18:13
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    If you can source that then add it to your answer... Jun 23, 2014 at 18:16
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    @Anixx I understand your point of view. And I think that for some of the points you make, you could find sources to prove it (for e.g. for the relaxing effects of smoking). Nevertheless, I don't believe there is no alternatives, that is purely speculative. E-cigarettes are one today. Yoga is another for relaxation, at least. Alcohol has similar effects to cope with "social anxieties". Also, some of your claims, such as the "smell of smoke", are extremely subjective.
    – Max
    Jun 28, 2014 at 4:03

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