Thursday, 24 June 2010

Better safe not sorry?

The precautionary principle seems like good common sense. If in doubt play safe.  If we are not sure of the actual harms something may cause we should take action now rather than wait for firm evidence. In short better safe than sorry. However the reality can be rather different as David Nutt points out in an excellent blog entitled Precaution or perversion: eight harms of the precautionary principle.

Essential Nutt argues that in respect to drugs the precautionary principle leads to increased harm.  In particular he identifies these 8 harms:
  1. Increases personal harms
  2. Distorts markets to greater harm to society
  3. Impossibility to refute
  4. Disproportionate penalties
  5. Entrenchment of a flawed institutionalised moral position on drugs
  6. Encourages other drug use
  7. Blocks new drug discovery
  8. Denies innovation and medical progress
This counter-intuitive argument is an important one and one that I have used to argue that the harms of drug and alcohol policy are actually greater than the direct harms of the specific substances.


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