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?
A government can try to ban anything, but in case of tobacco there are various reasons not to.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Companies have time to react on the gradual decline in tobacco sales and move to other markets.
- The government also has time to adapt to the gradual decline in tobacco tax revenue.
- 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.
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.
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.
One country has banned them: Turkmenistan.