According to the Dom Post there is new research out showing that banning smoking in places that people socialise will reduce social smoking:
New Zealand researchers believe fewer people would take up smoking socially if smoke-free rules extended to areas outside bars.
Alone, that sounds pretty innocuous. But how does it justify a headline like:
Study backs ban on smoking outside bars
As if the goal of healthcare policy should be to minimise gross harms, rather than maximise net benefits!
One interesting aspect of the article is that the social smokers themselves supported such a ban. Most reported smoking to fit in and be viewed as a part of the group, but said they would prefer it if none in the group smoked so they didn’t have to. The first reaction I had is that the social smokers are holding everythign else constant when they think about the benefits of a smoking ban: they’re assuming that the group will work the same way, just without the smoking. That’s a pretty big assumption to make, given that there are plenty of options open to the serious smokers.
Assuming that issue away, is this a co-ordination problem where people are stuck in an inferior, all-smoking equilibrium, or could everyone in the group be better off if the group didn’t smoke? Just as importantly, would the costs imposed on avowed smokers be greater than the benefits to social smokers who would prefer not to smoke? The most obvious solution is a mechanism that allows social smokers to precommit to not smoking, but that mechanism appears to elude people so far.