Mike Krause, writing only half toungue in cheek in an opinion column in the Denver Daily News today on behalf of the libertarian Independence Institute, moans and whines about how horrible and oppressive it is that Amendment 35 (which raised tobacco taxes to pay for anti-smoking efforts and children's health care) has reduced smoking in Colorado by twenty percent. He says this while accepting that "Cigarette smoking accounts for roughly one-fifth of Colorado deaths each year."
Basically, he wishes that thousands of Colorado smokers were dead, as they would be without Amendment 35 (and the equally important, but uncredited, indoor smoking ban we have in the state).
His argument is from a public finance perspective. He reasons that less smoking means fewer tobacco taxes to pay for children's health, and smokers who quit live longer implying larger lifetime health care costs. Needless to say, his argument is neither rigorous nor convincing. For example, in addition to the inherent benefits of having healthier people who live longer, healthier people who live longer also pay more taxes, and leave behind fewer people who depending upon them for support.
Krause's column is a typical example of the cold hearted, morally adrift attitude that gives libertarians generally a bad name, and that confines the Independence Institute to the realm of crackpots, as opposed to serious participants in the public policy discussion. If he's serious, he's sloppy and wrong headed, and if he's joking, he's violated the first rule of humor at the expense of others -- it's only funny if nobody gets seriously hurt in the process.
The facts he cites are interesting, however. Effective P.R. really does work, something that sponsors of Amendment 35, Denver Water (which recently congratulated its customers on their low water consumption in the record hot 2008 summer despite minimal coersion), and Japanese government officials (who use P.R. heavily in lieu of regulation) understand, but academically trained law and economics types, who too easily assume that people are rational actors operating with near perfect information, do not.