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For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health Paperback – May 1, 1999

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (May 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684871157
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684871158
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #713,011 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In this controversial book, Jacob Sullum demolishes the leading claims of the antismoking movement; their assertions have been advanced, he says, because the movement's principals would like the government to take control of the tobacco industry. Have you heard that secondhand smoke is bad for you? "There is no evidence that casual exposure to secondhand smoke has any impact on your life expectancy," writes Sullum, a drug policy expert and senior editor at Reason magazine. The debate over smoking is really more about the nature of liberty--how should a society restrict the choices of its members?--than it is about public health. Ex-Surgeon General C. Everett Koop is certain not to like For Your Own Good, but Sullum makes a powerful and provocative case against America's public health crusaders. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New England Journal of Medicine

Within the animal kingdom only one species, Homo sapiens, actively seeks to inhale smoke. All other species instinctively flee it. Cigarette smokers inhale some 4000-odd chemicals, including dozens known to be carcinogenic, cardiotoxic, or teratogenic. The typical smoker self-administers about 300 doses of this chemical stew on a daily basis, or more than 5 million doses over a lifetime of smoking. Approximately half of all lifelong smokers succumb as a consequence.

Jacob Sullum has written For Your Own Good in homage to the decision-making rights of the smoke-seeking species, if not necessarily its decision-making prowess. Sullum's core message is evident in the book's subtitle, The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health. He argues that the government, urged on by an overly zealous public health community, has gone too far in protecting smokers from themselves, and the rest of us from smokers. Drawing on the wisdom handed down by a long line of liberal philosophers, Sullum concludes that government's only legitimate role with respect to smoking lies in prohibiting harms to others. These harms, if they exist at all, are modest, he believes. His two-pronged argument against government intrusion thus rests on a factual predicate -- that smoking is primarily a self-affecting behavior willingly engaged in by knowledgeable adults -- and a philosophical proposition -- that individualism trumps a communitarian approach in defining the welfare of society.

A curious and challenging mixture of fact and philosophy is what makes this book so intriguing and worthwhile. Sullum marshals an impressive array of facts and arguments in tackling such fundamental issues as addiction, the risks of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke, the legitimacy of taxing cigarettes, and the effects of advertising. He has undertaken a truly prodigious amount of research and frequently (but decidedly not always) demonstrates a striking sophistication in discussing technical issues. The history he presents is consistently accurate, and his enumeration of arguments for and against various propositions often exhibits a scholarliness not always found in the work of tobacco-control researchers. Smoking-and-health cognoscenti stand to learn something, both substantive and tactical, from the specifics of the arguments and the manner in which they are crafted.

If the enumeration of arguments is scholarly, the interpretation is often less so. Sullum's take on any number of issues is invariably anti-anti-smoking, colored to a deep hue by the driving force of his philosophical concerns. (He is neither pro-smoking nor pro-industry. He readily acknowledges the dangers of smoking and criticizes the behavior of tobacco companies repeatedly.) He exhibits little appreciation of addiction, dismissing it by resorting to such bromides as the fact that a large proportion of smokers has successfully quit without formal assistance (the same is true of heroin addicts) and such sophistries as the fact that some smokers will quit smoking or reduce daily consumption in response to an increase in the price of cigarettes. (Drug-addicted laboratory animals do exactly the same when the "price" of their drug -- the number of times a lever must be pushed, for example -- is increased.) Sullum is not concerned by the youthful initiation of smoking, in large part because he does not accept that smoking is truly (and importantly) addictive.

Sullum also occasionally relies on dubious sources. To demonstrate that smokers appreciate the risks of smoking, he cites a survey finding that people overestimate the risk of dying from smoking-related lung cancer. Performed for the defense in a product-liability case brought against tobacco companies, the survey was designed to elicit this response. He ignores much of the more substantial body of evidence that smokers underestimate the risks of smoking. Sullum's interpretation of the crucially important evidence with respect to the health implications of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke is similarly one-sided, revealing a limited appreciation of the science and drawing on the opinion of economists at the Congressional Research Service that the epidemiologic evidence linking such exposure to disease was inadequate.

Sullum is better on other issues, such as the impact of advertising, where cause and effect remain controversial. On this subject and others discussed in the book, I found my own appreciation of the evidence enhanced by reading Sullum's interpretation. It is the many such instances that make this book educational and of particular value to readers familiar with the smoking-and-health story. Others, unfamiliar with alternative interpretations of the evidence, are at risk of being "snowed" by Sullum's eloquence.

Given Sullum's monotheistic adherence to rugged individualism (those opposed to smoking are not the only ones on a crusade), you might be tempted to dismiss For Your Own Good as but one more libertarian screed. Don't. Sullum is a thoughtful and remarkably articulate proponent of a position that it behooves all members of the health care professions to understand and contemplate. Our attempt to elevate community health to a preeminent place among American values often conflicts with our society's emphasis on individual liberty, even -- perhaps especially -- the right to make risky or unwise decisions. Sullum fears that the latter value -- one that I view with considerable respect -- is in danger of being swamped by a tidal wave of "health Nazis" (my wording, not his). In a corporate culture that has made the Marlboro Man one of the most widely recognized symbols in the world, one might readily conclude that it is the public health troops who are at risk of being submerged.

Reviewed by Kenneth Warner, Ph.D. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

An important book for anyone interested in civil liberties and personal space.
It's tough to understand how someone can call a book "biased" when the good guys are as slimy as the bad guys, but there you go.
Robert Beveridge
Ergo, using the logical fallacy of ad hominem, one should ignore everything Mr. Sullum writes.
Eric Breitenstein

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Gary R. Larson on August 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Jacob Sullum's book, "For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health" is maybe the best book for anyone interested in the issue of smoking. Sullum, a non-smoker, has taken a logical, meticulously researched look at the smoking issue and come to the heart of the essential problem; the "all or none" approach of the anti-tobacco movement.

Rather than approaching his book as a confirmation for smokers who wish to smoke, Sullum examines all of the essential issues of tobacco use including the health effects of secondhand smoke, the danger of smoking itself, and the comparable danger of both activities in relation to other activities. Sullum gives the specifics of these issues and points out the problems with the broad-brush generalities that anti-smoking crusaders have given to the public. For example, one has a difficult time reconciling statements like "Smoking takes ten years off your life" against "Quitting smoking for ten years will return your lungs to a healthy state". Sullum addresses discrepancies like this and brings the issues into perspective.

Sullum takes a cool and reasoned approach to this book and editorializes only at points that demand it. Sullum wants the reader to know they've come to the right place if they want 'just the facts' and the inevitable logical conclusions that can be drawn from them. In purpose, "For Your Own Good" doesn't vilify the anti-smoking movement, despite its title. Sullum points out early in the book that he found the vast majority of anti-smoking proponents he interviewed to be reaonable and well-worth talking too. It also doesn't give smokers a free-pass to smoke eighty cigarettes a day without any fear of ill health effects.
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38 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Eric Breitenstein on December 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Jacob Sullum has written what can only be described as a breath of fresh air in a current of noxious fumes. This book is a fair and balanced account of the anti-smoking movement and has received favorable reviews in such prestigious medical journals as the "Lancet," and the "New England Journal of Medicine."
The critiques of the propaganda used by the public heath movement to scare people: the assertion that advertising causes smoking, for example, are particularly interesting. The demolishment of the assertion that the hazards of smoking were recently discovered (actually, James I published one of the first anti-tobacco pamphlets in 1604) should make anyone considering suing the tobacco industry to recover damages take pause.
This is one book you will not be able to put down. Everything is documented, so checking Sullum's sources is easy. Regardless of your position on smoking, this book's clear detail about tobacco and its enemies will make for enlightening reading.
I must respond to what I think are genuine attempts to commit ad hominem attacks. One reviewer simply noted, without reading the book (it was obvious), that because Sullum in an editor of Reason magazine, his book and everything he says should (essentially) be ignored. Reason magazine is published by the Reason Foundation, which has accepted donations from tobacco companies in the past. Ergo, using the logical fallacy of ad hominem, one should ignore everything Mr. Sullum writes. This kind of reasoning is the last haven of the ignorant.
In the Introduction, Sullum notes that less than 1% of the Reason Foundation's budget has ever been funded by the tobacco industry, and that Philip Morris has bought ad space in Reason Magazine.
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Melody Sczarski on November 20, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The author of this book doesn't smoke but I do and I thank him. I have lived in both Great Britain and the USA, and am finding anti-smoking activism an increasing bore in both areas, although much more so in 'the land of the free.' Sullum points out that much anti-smoking policy is based on 'second-hand-smoke' fears and that these fears are demonstrably hysterical. The fear of getting lung cancer from sharing a bar with smokers is like fearing cirrhosis from smelling a drunkard's breath. But now US policy makers wish to ban smoking everywhere, private clubs, outdoors...they'll be imprisoning people for enjoying a cigarette soon if they have their way. As if individuals and people like restaurant owners couldn't decide without the government's boot on their necks where they wish to allow smoking and where they don't. I've smoked for four decades, and can't think when anyone's smoking ever bothered me, or when I was ever asked to put out my cigarette, until the last few years, once the alarmists started holding sway. Britain did not always treat well those subject to its empirical power. America had its witch trials, its commie hunts, its slavery. Germany's citizens went along with the vilification, degradation, and attempted murder of all its Jews. It's human nature, apparently, for societies to vilify and harass, such persons and practices as they choose, when they choose, without good reason: as reasons are lacking, societies simply make them up, and most docile citizens just go along with the hate-streams provided. Sullum points out that tobacco, and cigarettes particularly, have been banned before, for reasons that proved hysterical or alarmist, and that tolerance of smoking returns in time. Smoking is an exquisite pleasure.Read more ›
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