Tuesday, 16 November 2004

Smoookin'!

First I have to declare my interest in this: I am non-smoker and I don't like cigarette smoke.

When I was about five (I am not sure of the exact age, but I was quite young), one of my slightly older neighbour friend offered me a cigarette (a Marlborough, I remember that much!) on which I drew one puff only to immediately cough my lungs out. I have never been tempted to go near a cigarette since. This incident is probably not the only reason why I have never smoked (I could cite the fact that no one smokes in my family, or simply my total disregard for dependence on anything other than books (!)) but I am sure it helped.

It seems that after long debates on the subject in the media, the government has finally come up with something and is planning, within the next two to three years (!), to ban smoking in England (and Wales?) in public places serving prepared food (restaurant, cafes and some pubs) and in workplaces (see the BBC's website). This raises the questions of what pubs not serving food and clubs are for people working there, if not their workplace? And what is "prepared food" anyway?

While, like campaigning associations, I rejoice in this; I do also think that this is not going far enough. Effectively the ban should reach about 80 to 90% of public places. That leaves a lot of pubs out. These are traditionally the hangouts of the poorer members of society, who are also the ones who smoke the most (I know I am generalising there), have lesser access to health care and information and generally are the more in need of help and incitement to stop smoking. I heard smokers say that a ban would be an incitement for them to stop smoking. Let's not forget the many smokers are dependent on their cancer lollies and, although they want to, are finding it very hard to quit.

People like Frank Dobson, Former Labour health secretary, hope that pubs outside the ban will soon join the rank and apply a voluntary ban. If we look at what is happening in Ireland (where there has been a total ban on smoking for over a year now), we see that profits made by pubs have fallen as a result of the ban. Why should a landlord take the risk of making less money if he doesn't have to by law? This scepticism on the pub owners' part could be reinforced by actions from the powerful tobacco industry. Why should they not start using the restriction on the ban attached to food sales to put pressure on pub owners and landlords to stop selling food and therefore allow smoking?

Apart from a few life long smokers, I don't think anybody contests the fact that smoking is dangerous. Even the cigarette manufacturers have relented, I believe. Pro-smoking people therefore brandish the flag of their undermined civil liberties to justify their opposition to the ban. First they still have the liberty of smoking at home or of blowing their smoke in our faces when outdoors. More importantly and unsurprisingly, they are blithely forgetting about the civil liberties of none smokers. A fundamental point in the definition of liberties (set out in the 1789 French Déclaration Universelle des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen - article 4) is that the person creating the disruption is the one to be penalised and forced to restrain themselves, not the victims of the disruption (one's liberty stops where that of others starts). I don't care if smokers have decided to ruin their health and die early. What I don't want is to have their cigarette smoke forced on me. I have no choice in that. And don't tell me I should just go somewhere else: why should I have to? What about my liberty to be and go where I want to without being molested? If I started walking around with a radio playing loud music (which people would have no other choice but to listen to), I would be accused of disturbing the peace and would be forced to stop. And the lasty time I checked music was not dangerous for people's health...

The Tories, who oppose an outright ban (or any sort of ban for that matter), have clearly decided to use this contentious issue for their political gain. As often, their arguments are specious: they agree that is bad in public places but are ready to bow to the rich industry lobby groups. Their method of "voluntary agreement" means a lack of uniformity in the access to no smoking establishments. We also know what smokers can be like: they have no respect for non-smokers and always try to have their way: this is why we need an intervention from what they call the "nanny state". However sad this is, it is a fact that most people are lost if they don't have a nanny to wipe their bottom and tell them what to do! They also argue that if prevented to do so at the pub, smokers will stay home and smoke in front of their children and damage their health. Do they really think smokers will wait for a ban to smoke in front of their children?! Is it better to endanger stranger's health rather than your children's? what kind of argument it that?

To sum up: smoking is dangerous and is an imposition on none-smokers. It should therefore be totally banned in public places. This current proposition is not good enough! If we push the argument to it's bitter end; tobbaco should be banned altogether, like other drugs. However, as I said I am happy for people to do what they want with their lives as long as they don't impinge on mine. Is that fair?

Finally, I would say that yes, a ban is an important step but just as important is the need for making it harder for people to start smoking, for educating people and for providing help for smokers to give up on their sad habit.


For more information on the subject:
www.ash.org.uk

And for the "arguments" in support of smoking:
www.forestonline.org


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