Instigator / Pro

GAUNTLET 1: On Balance, Smoking Should be Criminalized in US


The debate is finished. The distribution of the voting points and the winner are presented below.

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After 2 votes and with 4 points ahead, the winner is...

oromagi's avatar
117 debates / 397 votes
MisterChris's avatar
45 debates / 106 votes
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Contender / Con

This is for the first matchup of my GAUNTLET TOURNAMENT, where Ayyantu must defeat five debaters in a row to claim the tower.

This does NOT include E-cigarettes, or marijuana.

Smoking: the act of inhaling and exhaling the fumes of burning plant material.

Criminalized: punishable by law

Burden of Proof is shared

Round 1
I will challenge myself to word this argument as succinctly as possible to make it easy for con to try to refute.

In essence, the problem of smoking lies in its non-essential nature and its non-desirable nature. It is common fact that smoking has killed millions per year, and even second hand smoking has killed thousands.  Even those that do not die gain countless problems, such as heart disease, lung cancer, bad breath, yellow teeth, so on and so forth. Your brain also gets addicted to the pleasure, and it's incredibly difficult to quit. Any "benefits" of smoking are very small in comparison to the countless suffering that you gain, physically and mentally.

In addition, the environment provides millions of trees also to produce tobacco, which could be crucial to stopping further pollution and damage to the environment.  It is 10x worse than diesel car exhaust, suggesting that if we do not stop this soon, we risk encouraging global warming and emissions.

The financial problem with health industry has lost billions of dollars worth of productivity, and health care. This figure heavily outweighs what is earned by the smoking industry alone (only <50$ billion worth in total). It's a definitive lost cause of an industry to invest in.

More than 2/3 smokers want to quit, but over 90% fail each year. It's clear that our personal liberty and capacity for life is stopped short by this deadly assassin, especially with premature aging and deaths due to cigarette's dangerous chemicals. We have already adopted smokefree policies in many European countries and public places in NYC along with CA to great effect, with vast reduction of smokers with smokefree policies. The only solution is to ban smoking. Studies have found mere regulation, even on the FDA's side, are ineffective in comparison. 

Now onto con.
This debate is about smoking in the United States. Pro must persuade you to criminalize the smoking of all plants except marijuana. In contrast, I must persuade you to allow smoking of at least one plant other than marijuana. The resolution doesn’t require that I support the smoking of tobacco.

That said, my case is simple: (1) legalization protects human dignity & freedom of choice; (2) criminalization is hopelessly impractical; and (3) in some cases smoking provides more benefit than harm. Each argument negates the resolution independently. Together, they form an overwhelming case against criminalization.

Before I dive into my arguments, let me briefly address some big picture issues with Pro's case. First, Pro focuses entirely on the smoking of tobacco, which isn't enough to meet his BoP. While tobacco smoke is relevant, it's not the only type of smoking at issue. Pro must persuade you to criminalize the smoking of all plants except marijuana, and on that front, Pro hasn't said anything.

Second, Pro repeatedly misrepresents his own sources. For example, Pro states: "Studies have found mere regulation, even on the FDA's side, are ineffective in comparison." But Pro's source actually says the opposite of his claim -- that criminalization is ineffective when compared with regulation. In fact, the whole study is about how "nicotine regulation" helps, whereas "criminalization" is "hopelessly impractical." [1] Because Pro's claims don't match his sources, be very cautious about trusting Pro's claims. 

Third, Pro's plan is too vague. Will he ban the manufacture & distribution of tobacco? What about other plants that people might smoke? How will Pro get his legislation passed? Or courts to uphold it as constitutional? Or local governments to enforce it? What's the criminal punishment? Will it depend on the type of plant you're smoking? Will Pro imprison the 90% of habit smokers who fail to quit despite trying? Pro needs to specify more details so that I'm not arguing against a constantly moving target.


Freedom of choice. The United States was founded on the principle that individuals should have all the freedom they want to pursue their own views of the good life -- up to the point where an unwilling person could be harmed. This idea is captured by John Stuart Mill’s “harm principle,” which holds that “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

We adopt this principle for three reasons. First, the harm principle protects human dignity by upholding our inherent ability to choose our own actions & beliefs as well as our ability to take personal responsibility for our choices. 

Second, the harm principle maximizes utility because it lets individuals weigh the costs and benefits of incommensurate goods subjectively. Concepts like pleasure & harm are inherently subjective, so the best way to maximize them is by letting individuals weigh them subjectively, as long as those actions don't harm anyone else.

Third, the harm principle establishes political legitimacy by offering a rational basis for leaving a “state of nature” where individuals are free to do whatever they want. We create government (and give up some freedom as a result) to protect ourselves from being harmed by others, and this in turn establishes the limits of legitimate government interference.

Under the harm principle, the government should allow smoking as long as it doesn't harm an unwilling person. The government's job isn't to ensure that people never harm themselves, but rather to protect freedom of choice and human dignity. That's why suicide is legal even though it leads to death with infinitely greater certainty than smoking.


Hopelessly impractical. The reality is this: people will continue smoking regardless of what the law says or how harsh the punishment is. The historical evidence shows that smokers continued using tobacco even when faced with "execution, disfigurement, exile, and onerous taxation" by "monarchs from England to China." Even today, smoking persists in places with strict prohibitions, including in places with religious Mormon & Islamic prohibitions. [1]

Pro himself admits that 1/3 of smokers don't want to quit despite knowing the harms of smoking, and that 90% fail to quit each year despite trying. Most smokers will probably continue smoking under Pro's plan, which means the harms Pro identifies continue in his world. Even worse, Pro wants to imprison addicts instead of helping them with rehab. But Prisons don't stop addicts from buying cigarettes on the black market.

Indeed, when you criminalize a market with an addicting product, it quickly becomes a black market with everything that entails. The illegal drug trade offers a cautionary tale. Dealers charge monopoly prices -- in prisons, black market dealers charge a 45,000% markup on cigarettes -- and that means smokers have less money leftover to spend on other things, including health. [1] This will magnify health costs because less smokers will have the money to take care of themselves or to actually pay their healthcare debts. It'll even drive some smokers to homelessness, prostitution, or property crime, simply to afford a smoke. The impacts will likely disproportionately impact Blacks and Hispanics, and it could also increase tensions with the police, further undermining public trust in law enforcement and spurring more unrest & even rioting. 

Meanwhile, the higher-ups in gangs and drug cartels will reap enormous profits from cigarette sales, and they will use this money to fund terrorism, political corruption, and other destabilizing tactics. Studies predict that a total smoking ban would fuel already-existing tobacco-based cartels and other drug cartels, leading to a massive increase in violence and terror. [1] [2] [3] [4] And that still leaves all the harms we can't predict ahead-of-time. Maybe Pro's plan will decrease high school graduation rates because it increases illegal opportunities for dropouts in the black market? Who knows?

Criminalization also poses a money problem. States raise a lot of money by taxing cigarettes & other smoking material. How will Pro's plan replace this lost revenue? What about all the lost jobs related to the tobacco industry? How will governments pay for new police expenditures, judicial expenditures, and prison expenditures? Even non-smokers don't want to criminalize smoking because they don't want to pay for government enforcement of a lost cause, nor do they want to pay for lost tax revenue. In effect, Pro wants non-smokers to subsidize a black market.

Criminalization would upset the vast majority of people in the US on both sides of the aisle. Citizens don't like when government limits our private choices, and they repeatedly reject even modest cigarette tax hikes. [1] As a practical matter, no serious politician anywhere would ever advocate for anything close to a total ban on smoking, so how will Pro implement his plan? 

Rather than criminalize smoking, I'd ban smoking in public to limit risks of secondhand smoke, while continuing non-criminal government-sponsored deterrence programs with a proven track record.


Medicinal smoking. In some circumstances, smoking medicinal plants provides more benefit than harm. I'll start with tobacco before turning to other plant medicines. 

Yes, tobacco has some health risks. But they don't affect everyone equally -- some people are more genetically predisposed than others -- and thus sometimes the benefits outweigh the risks. Tobacco causes a mild euphoria without intoxication, thus serving as an alternative to much deadlier drugs. It also doesn't destroy relationships as intoxicating drugs like alcohol routinely do. And more importantly, numerous studies suggest that tobacco smoke is healthy & protective against a number of diseases, including obesity-related harms, death from a heart attack, depression, attention deficits, and other mental illness, ulcerative colitis, Parkinson's disease, endometrial cancer, uterine fibroids, and hypertension in pregnancy, among others. [5] [6] Of course, excess dosage poses risk, just as it would for any medicine, but that doesn't mean smoking tobacco is net harmful in all circumstances. Informed users should be allowed to smoke tobacco when benefits outweigh risks. 

I also advocate the smoking of other medicinal plants, including mullein, white horehound, hyssop, and Korean ginseng. Mullein cleanses lung infections & inflammation, helping to break up respiratory congestion. White horehound is used in natural medicine practices to treat bronchitis, whooping cough, and asthma, as well as to ease aches & pains. Hyssop (mentioned in the Bible as an herb used to cleanse and purge) is used to treat emphysema & sooth irritated mucous membranes in the respiratory system. Korean ginseng dilates constricted vessels in the lungs, allowing for deeper breathing. It also cleanses the adrenal glands, and it's been shown to decrease cancer development in lung tissue. [7]

Each of these plant medicines provides great benefits to smokers, while having none of the harms associated with tobacco. Thus, the US should allow smokers to use these plant medicines.

Round 2
Not bad. But your own ideas refute yourself. Firstly, let me say that I advocate for a fine rather than jail, as prison is nonsensical, especially with US Prison systems which are corrupt and messed up to a point that needs a lot of fixing.

You advocate for freedom of choice, but have not declined the idea that 90% are denied that by failing to quit smoking, despite desiring to do so.

You say benefits outweigh harms, as this is what Mill would desire, but second hand has other people getting into harm's way, combined with financial cost and environmental damage, vastly outweigh any cure of Parkinson's disease or even obesity (as neither are as hefty as irreversible death).

Next, you say it's impractical because it can't be done, however, consider that monarchs only saw the economic side of problems and not physical. The 70% of smokers wanting to quit in US goes far to see that the percent who would continue is a vast minority. The drug regulation vs illegal trade is not unique to banning alone, as even regulation with taxation has still managed to get illegal smoking trade that benefits from smoking still being legal. Con says that the tobacco cartel will grow to immense proportions, but this is only if we outlaw tobacco entirely. As tobacco may still be used with jet fuel and cooking, it will not needed to be outlawed entirely, thus refuting a vast effect that criminalizing drugs usually leads to. 

Finally, tobacco may have some beneficial ideas on its own without being smoked, but a scholarly article notes that the only noteworthy conclusion was that it alleviated pain. It is unknown if the tobacco actually has to be smoked in order to produce all the benefits. In fact, chewing tobacco alleviates the big problem of other people being harmed, pollution to environment, illegal smoke trade (as tobacco industry would still be thriving, with only smoking outlawed and not chewing tobacco), and still solves Parkinson's disease. 

I await con's arguments.
Pro still doesn’t offer any argument to criminalize smoking of all plants, as opposed to only tobacco. Again, this isn’t enough to satisfy his BoP.

Pro’s plan is still vague. He says he’s not banning the sale of tobacco, and that he’s going to impose a criminal fine on smokers. But everything else is left vague. How am I fairly supposed to argue against the implementation of his plan if I don’t know what I’m arguing again?

Pro doesn’t offer any reasons to believe that smoking would decrease under his plan. He ignores the historical evidence that most smokers will continue to smoke even when faced with punishment like execution or even torture. If these punishments didn’t deter smoking, why would a fine? Pro offers no answer.

Consider Prohibition, for example. Consumption of alcohol increased. [8] This happened (and will happen again) because of the well-documented “forbidden fruit” effect. [9] How would Pro prevent a similar increase in smoking under his plan?

Criminal fines don't deter addictive behaviors. Even worse, they function as a regressive tax on the poor. Most fines never get collected (and are likely uncollectable), as many Americans are unable to pay an unexpected bill of $400. [10] Unpaid fines result in arrest warrants, court hearings, additional fines, detention in jail, loss of voting privileges, and sometimes straight-up imprisonment. 

Criminal fines also divert resources from true public safety needs. When police serve warrants for failure to pay fines, they’re less available to respond to 911 calls. When courts schedule hearings for failure to pay, more serious hearings are delayed or rushed. When community corrections officers spend their time reminding clients to pay unaffordable fines, they have less time to help addicts break the cycle.

This will disproportionately impact marginalized communities & increase community distrust of police. In Ferguson, Missouri, for example, the US Justice Department found that community distrust of police was largely rooted in the city's excessive reliance on criminal fines. [11] Moreover,  expanding the permissible realm of searches & seizures will further increase tensions with police as well as constitutional violations & Section 1983 lawsuits. 

Pro says he won't fuel a black market because he isn't banning the sale of tobacco. But how will Pro regulate this market? Will he ban the sale of cigarettes? Either way, a black market for cigarettes already exists, and Pro's plan will expand this market to some extent because smokers won't want to leave a record of tobacco purchases for the DEA or FBI to investigate.

Pro also continues to misrepresent his sources. For example, Pro says tobacco doesn't have any health benefit but alleviating pain. But Pro's source says the opposite, suggesting that “tobacco leaves contain an anticancer agent” and that we should “set aside the prejudices generated by the ill-effects of tobacco smoking and examine the leaves systematically for substances of therapeutic value.” It turns out Pro's claim comes from a medical review of tobacco up to the year 1860 and is cited within Pro's source as incorrect information. Again, be wary of trusting Pro's claims.

Pro says smoking leads to "irreversible death," but that's simply untrue. Most smokers never suffer any harms from smoking, only benefits, and not even 10% of lifelong heavy smokers get lung cancer. [12] Again, people have different genetic predispositions as well as different lifestyles, both of which impact how harmful smoking is. At bottom, disease is multi-causal & therefore you have to take into account a number of other factors when evaluating whether smoking poses a risk. For example, lung cancer & heart disease was virtually non-existent among indigenous smokers. [See Pro's source on the medical history of tobacco use]

Pro refers to unspecified "financial cost and environmental damage." What is Pro talking about? And how would Pro's plan solve these problems? If smoking increases due to the "forbidden fruit" effect, wouldn't Pro's plan magnify these undefined harms? I'm also confused why Pro talks about "financial cost" when he didn't address my argument about the financial costs of enforcement & lost tax revenue under his plan.

Pro also doesn't address the lack of a popular mandate. Again, how will Pro implement his plan without causing profound public unrest & distrust of government? Without a popular mandate, Pro's plan leads to tyranny, a fundamentally anti-American ideal and one of the dangers the founding fathers fought & warned against. 


Pro drops the majority of my case. In particular, he completely drops my argument to allow the smoking of certain plant medicines. This alone negates the resolution.

Pro doesn't contest my sources -- which cite to numerous studies published more recently than Pro's sources -- showing that smoking tobacco has numerous health benefits, as well as a broader social impact of choosing tobacco over deadlier drugs. Thus, extend my argument that smoking tobacco produces more benefits than harm for informed users in some circumstances. 

Pro seemingly accepts the "harm principle," including the fact that it respects freedom of choice, human dignity, and personal responsibility, maximizes utility, and establishes political legitimacy. Under this principle, the US must allow smoking in private or among consenting adults. 

Pro refers to the harm of secondhand smoke, but that impact isn't relevant to my case because I don't allow smoking in public. Pro also says that 90% of smokers are denied "freedom of choice" because they're unable to quit smoking, but Pro offers no evidence that they're physically, mentally, or otherwise incapable of exercising "freedom of choice." To the contrary, Pro admits that many smokers are able to quit.

Pro ignores the importance of personal responsibility. Smokers knowingly cause harm to their bodies when they smoke tobacco (remember, the US requires warning labels on the sale of tobacco). Smokers also know the risks of addiction. And yet they choose to smoke. Smokers, and smokers alone, are accountable for their actions. When we don't hold people accountable for their choices, we erode our respect for human dignity and the inherent ability of humans to pursue their personal vision of a good life. 

Pro hasn't offered any evidence that criminalization would deter smoking more than regulations & current control measures (including higher prices via higher taxation) already do. Even Pro's own sources state that "increasing the price of tobacco products is the single most effective way to reduce consumption," yet Pro's plan leaves the tobacco industry entirely untouched, meaning pricing stays the same. Thus, extend my argument that Pro's plan is hopelessly impractical because it magnifies harms rather than solving them. 



[8] Prohibition was a total failure. Crime increased. Court and prison systems were stretched to the breaking point. Corruption of public officials exploded. Government spending increased dramatically, while tax revenue sharply declined. And many drinkers, having become outlaws, started using opium, marijuana, cocaine, and other dangerous substances they would have been unlikely to encounter in the absence of Prohibition.
Round 3
I'm struggling to find enough information differing regulation and criminalization, so I'm afraid I will have to give this to Ayyantu. Congrats. I concede.
Thanks to Pro for the debate. I hope it's changed his mind, which is all we can hope for when debating important topics like this.

Round 4
ded. good luck on r2 against sum1hugme
Vote Con.