This ad was produced for the New Zealand chapter of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) by Doyle Dane Bernbach. As Copyranter notes, the idea is not even original: An anti-smoking ad published in a Dubai newspaper on the 2007 anniversary of 9/11 used the same tasteless concept. The copy in the ASH ad reads:
Terrorism-related deaths since 2001: 11,337 • Tobacco-related deaths since 2001: 30,000,000
This juxtaposition should not be dismissed as mere provocation. For "public health" true believers, the fact that smokers who get lung cancer or emphysema are not murdered but instead die as a result of voluntarily assumed risks does not mean the government has less of a duty to prevent their deaths. As public health theorist Dan Beauchamp puts it, "The historic dream of public health that preventable death and disability ought to be minimized is a dream of social justice," and realizing it means rejecting "the ultimately arbitrary distinction between voluntary and involuntary hazards" as well as "the radical individualism inherent in the market model."
Properly speaking, the collectivist calculus of public health should take into account years of life lost, and the people who died in the the 9/11 attacks were, on average, younger than people who die from smoking-related diseases. But since the latter group is so much larger, it accounts for many more total years of life lost. By this logic, smoking is a much bigger outrage than terrorism, and governments should spend much more money and effort to prevent it than they do to prevent terrorism. Although I am sympathetic to the argument that our government devotes too many resources to stopping low-probability terrorist attacks, I tend to think any amount of taxpayer money spent on saving people from themselves is too much. But that's because I am still subject to what Beauchamp disapprovingly describes as "the powerful sway market-justice holds over our imagination, granting fundamental freedom to all individuals to be left alone."