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Eli5: why are cigarettes legal? : explainlikeimfive

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TL DR Version

1) Money

2) Tradition

3) Addiction

4) Stupidity

Longer Version

1) There are a lot of wealthy people that continue to make a lot of money off of the sale of tobacco products. Several countries in the world, including the United States, actually make a huge amount of tax revenue off of the sale of cigarettes as well.

Also, without getting into too much of a hugely political debate, tobacco was and remains a product in the United States chiefly distributed by people from what might be called the “Southern Powers.” Historically, these people are the ultra wealthy descendants of slave holding families whom can be seen as a kind of southern United States aristocracy. Generally, this group of people have been both the most morally bankrupt individuals capable of justifying any of their actions in the pursuit of profit all while convincing the poor and uneducated to side with them using elementary tactics like arming the poor with terms like, “freedom of choice.”

2) Tradition. It is far more difficult to execute “top down” social policies. Meaning, the government incurs far more resentment from the average citizen when the government attempts to legislate what those citizens have come to understand as their “personal choice.” There&#39 s something even called the “Backfire Effect,” where people become more supportive of an idea the more that it appears that they are wrong.

#Backfire effect

Outlaw cigarettes because there is simply no fucking reason they should be legal, and suddenly, you have millions of Americans screaming that you&#39 re trying to take away “their freedom.”

3) Addiction is no joke. Having been a 2 1/2 pack a day smoker for about 12 years of my life, on and off, trying to quit sucks balls.

Not to mention that cigarette companies have specifically attempted to enhance the addictive qualities of their nicotine.


The portion of the human brain that engages addiction seeking behaviors isn&#39 t the same as the prefrontal cortex, the decision making portion of the brain. So in all actually, smoking is a “reaction to stimulus,” not a “decision” that someone makes.

Suddenly trying to tell millions of people that they have to quit smoking means that you&#39 re going to have millions of people suddenly going through detox. Which is not a fun process.

4) All humans are stupid. Me, you, all of us. There are countless ways that our brains&#39 ability to perceive information is distorted. Here&#39 s a funny little article on just a few of the many, many ways that our conceptualization abilities fail us

I mean, just look at the Dunning Kruger Effect. That&#39 s a real thing.

Hell, most people argue just to win. That&#39 s why you can Google, “how to win an argument when you&#39 re wrong,” and receive loads of specific replies.

Absolutely, cigarettes should be illegal to produce, distribute, and sell. There is no logical argument that can be made to support the industry as it exists today.

But instead of “logic,” or “health,” we have those four factors I just described instead. Enjoy!

If you&#39 d like to read more about the history of tobacco, the Wikipedia entry below is pretty good.