Secondhand Smoke, Moral Sanctions, and How We Should Respond to COVID-19

Barry Schwartz: The research on secondhand smoke began in the 1960s, showing negative effects on lab animals. As the work continued, it left no doubt that secondhand smoke contributes to asthma, cardiovascular disease, many types of cancer, stroke, cognitive impairment, and countless other maladies. These sorts of findings empowered people to demand, not request, that others put out their cigarettes. The secondhand smoke research led eventually to all the regulation that we now take for granted. Why did this research change public attitudes and change them so fast — in a single generation? The answer, I think, is that research on secondhand smoke took an individual (perhaps foolish) choice and moralized it, by emphasizing its effects on others. It was no longer simply dumb to smoke; it was immoral. And that changed everything.

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