Social Control of Tobacco and Alcohol

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SOCI 38 Social Control Essay Assignment
Topic chosen: Tobacco and alcohol

Consumption of tobacco and alcohol has long been proven to be harmful to one’s health, however it should be considered one’s liberty to smoke or drink and such acts are not considered “illegal” under laws. However, many countries have implement social control mechanisms in regulating smoking or drinking behavior, which raises controversy in the sense that smoking and drinking could be seen as “norms” in social gatherings. This essay is divided into two parts: the first part attempts to justify the need for social control for tobacco and alcohol using various sociological theories and studies; while the second part describes the mechanism of social control on this issue in the context of Hong Kong in detail.

Definition of Social Control
Before justifying the need of social control for smoking and alcohol consumption, it is necessary to understand the definition of social control. The Oxford Dictionary of Sociology defines social control as social processes that regulate behavior of individuals or groups into conforming to norms and values in society. Edward Ross was known for pioneering the concept of social control, he defines it a purposive ascendency over individual aims and interests through definite and organized means to uphold social interest and function (Ross, 1986). According to Black (1976), social control includes the definition of deviance as well as the responses to deviance; while Cohen (1985) claimed that social control is an organized response towards deviance; while Meier argues that there are three functions of social control: serving as a description of social processes, mechanism to ensure compliance and social stability, as well as a method to study social order (Meier, 1982).

Justifying Social Control
Hobbes on Social Control
In Leviathan (1651) by Thomas Hobbes, he assumes that men are all equal and selfish, and such selfish desires drives men into a state of war – where human beings pursue their own gratifications and interests as they saw fit without considering the rights of others, thus giving rise to conflicts and chaos in the absence of a sovereign power or laws to regulate social order. Hobbes argues that in the state of nature, there is no concept of morality. Thus, under the fear of death, people would be willing to come together and to form a sovereign power, known as Common-wealth, submitting their liberties in exchange for safety and sustainability.

Tobacco and Alcohol
Applying this theory in the case of tobacco smoking, without social control, people who are free to pursuit satisfaction from smoking as they saw fit, without considering the threats they pose to the physical wellbeing of themselves or others. Conflict between men arises. Under the assumptions that men desire a commodious living and fear death, it calls for social control via common-wealth on the behavior of tobacco smoking or drinking. However, despite the rise of common-wealth, people are still tempted to disobey laws in the absence of a coercive system of punishment. Thus, under Hobbes’ theory, there should be a formal social control mechanism that compels people to conform to norms and rules.

John Locke on Social Control
In The Second Treatise on Civil Government (1690) by John Locke, he proposes the concept of the State of Nature – a state with full liberty within the laws of nature. Locke assumes that men are reasonable, equal and independent before the law, and no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions.

Tobacco
Under Locke’s theory, social control on tobacco can be justified in the sense that smoking harms both the smoker as well as people around the smoker via second-hand smoke. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in United States, people who are exposed to secondhand smoke have a 20-30% higher chance of developing lung cancer, and there has been an estimated...
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