Thursday, July 03, 2008

Special "Independence" Day Post: Australians May Need a License to Smoke

Adults in Australia who smoke may soon be required to obtain a "license to smoke," according to an article in the Victoria Herald-Sun.

According to the article: "Health Minister Nicola Roxon has warned smokers she is prepared to take radical action to force them to give up. A smoker's permit could be among the "innovative options" employed to get Australians to quit. The permit, which smokers would have to buy annually and display every time they bought cigarettes, has been mooted in Britain. ... Under Britain's permit proposal, smokers would have to renew their permit every year and display it when buying cigarettes."

This proposal has been endorsed by a leading tobacco control researcher and advocate - Dr. Simon Chapman of the University of Sydney School of Public Health - who writes in a July 4 column on an Australian news web site: "Why not license smokers? After all, doctors issue tens of thousands of temporary licences every day in the form of prescriptions to allow us to access drugs that can save lives and improve health. Critics scoff at the idea, arguing that there would be too many difficulties in policing it, or that an underground market for cigarettes would develop. Given that obtaining a licence for other activities is so straightforward, these arguments hold little weight. Introducing a smoker-licensing scheme could be readily managed by allowing all current adult smokers over the age of 18 to acquire a permit. To be eligible, smokers would need to have their doctor affirm that they are smokers and then apply for a photo ID swipecard. Any new smokers wanting a licence after the scheme's starting date would be required to take a test, proving they fully understood the many health risks of smoking. ID cards could be swiped at stores to limit the number of cigarette packs that could be bought at a time. Two packs a day maximum, say. This would help to minimise a blackmarket of cigarettes being sold on to unlicensed or under-age smokers. And, just as for a driving licence, smokers would need to renew their commitment to smoking every five years."

The Rest of the Story

This is a wonderful idea, but why restrict it just to smoking? There are all sorts of health-related behaviors for which people should be required to have a permit.

First of all, people should have to hold a license to drink. I propose a system of licenses by which you are certified at a certain level of drinks allowed per time period. You have to first take a drinking test to see how well you hold your liquor. Based on your test score, your license then indicates how much you can drink without posing a threat to yourself or others. A doctor would have to certify that you indeed do drink alcohol. Upon entering a bar, the bouncer would check your license and then stamp your hand with the appropriate number of allowed drinks. The bartender would check off your stamps as each drink is served.

Second, if you need a license to fish, you definitely should need a license to become a parent (to borrow a motif from the movie "Parenthood"). A quick parenting test could be required. Baby dummies could be used with real sound effects to simulate the conditions you need to be able to recognize. You should be required to demonstrate your ability to change a diaper while talking on a cell phone and with a dummy toddler in a standing position, useful when you are using your drinking license in a bar with bathrooms that are not baby-friendly.

Prior to your child becoming an adolescent, you would need to renew your parenting license. You would be tested in a simulation in which you would try to conduct a conversation with a testing official who refuses to listen to anything you have to say and doesn't want to be seen in your presence or acknowledge that you exist, except to ask for money to take when he goes out with his testing buddies.

Third, you should need a license to buy red meat. With a doctor's certification, you get a permit that allows you to purchase red meat at the grocery store. However, there is a strict limit of two steaks at a time, to prevent a possible black market for rib eye and rump. Before receiving your license, you would of course be required to pass a test demonstrating knowledge of the harmful effects of eating high amounts of fat.

Licenses to purchase tater tots should also be required, but available only through a highly competitive lottery system.

Fourth, a permitting system should be established for sunbathing. Licenses would be granted only after completing an educational program about skin cancer and methods to help prevent sun exposure.

On a similar note, licenses should also be required to go to a tanning salon. A physician's note as well as successful completion of a course in dermatological oncology would be required.

Restaurants which continue to serve trans-fats should require their customers to hold a permit before ordering any food that contains more than 0.5 grams of trans-fat. A swipe card system could be developed which automatically keeps track of your trans-fat intake for the week. Once you reach the weekly maximum, you would be denied any further trans-fat containing menu items.

Unsafe sex would still be permitted under this system, but would require a license, for which one would need a doctor's note and successful completion of an exam on sexually transmitted diseases. There would also be a weekly partner maximum.

Fat people would need a license to eat out in restaurants, and would have to pass an additional certification exam to eat out at fast food restaurants. A special mark on the license, obtainable only with a doctor's permission, would be necessary to supersize it.

A special thrill-seeking license would be required for activities like bungee jumping, skydiving, rock climbing, sky surfing, and freestyle motocross. Skateboarding permits would be on a graded system, with funbox, grind box, quarterpipe, and halfpipe levels.

Swimming permits would follow the traditional YMCA levels of: guppy, minnow, tadpole, fish, flying fish, and shark.

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