Human rights and tobacco control: lessons from illicit drugs


Hannah, J. and Barrett, D in Human Rights and Tobacco Control, Editors: Toebes, B. and Gispen, M-E., Edward Elgar Publishing

This contribution is a reflection on human rights and tobacco control set against the endgame of a ‘drug free world’. The elimination of illicit drugs has long been an international policy imperative, sometimes justified on human rights grounds. But the human rights costs of this endgame in terms of negative outcomes are now apparent. Meanwhile, a compelling human rights case for stronger tobacco control has been well made. It is easy, moreover, to see the health benefits of a ‘tobacco free world’ and a relatively straightforward step to argue that such a goal helps realise the right to health. But are we sure that pursuit of a tobacco free world aligns with human rights given the clear distance between human rights and the pursuit of a ‘drug free world’? Have we properly tried to anticipate any human rights costs associated with tobacco control strategies and worked to mitigate them? In asking such questions we do not suggest that tobacco control advocates envisage ‘war on drugs’ methods or that tobacco control and drug control are the same. One is a punitive suppression regime with a supply side focus, while the other is a broader regulatory framework more weighted to the demand side. But there are similarities and areas of crossover with important human rights dimensions, including issues of addiction, restrictions on individual liberties, linkages with broader social policy, controversies around harm reduction, and enforcement responses to illicit markets. As tobacco control moves towards stricter controls (including beyond the requirements of the FCTC in national contexts), as endgame strategies are pursued, and as illicit tobacco becomes a greater focus, the resemblances to drug control may become closer. Read more