What sort of economic or political theory could justify the state (the apparatus of political and bureaucratic government) to forbid an adult to do something that can only harm himself (or hypothetically those who choose to associate with him)? A Wall Street Journal story alerts us to a current illustration (Jennifer Maloney, “New Zealand Bans Cigarette Sales for Everyone Born After 2008,” December 14, 2022):

The law passed Tuesday bans the sale of tobacco products in New Zealand to anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 2009, so those who are age 13 or younger today will never be able to legally purchase tobacco in their lifetimes.

It would have to be a theory claiming or assuming that:

  • an adult (even in a country where he has the right to vote and is supposed to be capable of politically ruling others) is not capable of judging what has for himself more benefits than costs;
  • and some individuals, whether majorities, minorities, philosopher-kings, or despots, are better capable of making this evaluation and decision for others, and in these others’ interests, and impose it on them by force, as well as on any other voluntary traders (such as smugglers) who interfere.

The objection that public health insurance and subsidy systems harm those who adopt less risky lifestyles because it forces them to pay taxes to support individuals who make risky choices is not valid. These sorts of compulsory systems have been sold to voters (assuming that this is indeed what voters, in some meaningful sense, voted for) under the official reason that this sharing of risk was a matter of “social solidarity” if not of compulsory love. At any rate, individuals who die younger cost less to the collective because the net drain on the public finances, through public pensions and probably health care too, increases with an individual’s age.

The “externality” of smoking is typically either manufactured by the state or reducible to what moral busybodies don’t like other people to do. They hate the very idea that some people do something they don’t approve of.

Moreover, the public discrimination against the smoking part of the citizenry (largely made of “deplorables”) will contribute to more polarization and eventually violence.

I don’t think we can, over the past four centuries, find any classical liberal theory of politics or economics that supports this sort of systemic infantilization of so-called “citizens.” Liberal theories don’t view individuals as either children of the state or coercive majorities.