For some reason, this subject often elicits more response than writing about something like capital punishment, human rights or even state education. It seems that there is no political line when it comes to smoking – this isn’t something that falls on right or left politics. People are often against anti-smoking laws because of the civil liberties aspect and naturally you get alliances from liberals, libertarians and the centre left. But equally people in those camps also see the wider health aspects and can support measures that reduce the health cost to the state of those who smoke.
My position is quite clear and quite simple: smoking should be banned completely. I accept this is a serious and somewhat controversial opinion but I don’t think it should be. We outlaw all manner of substances without the same level of controversy or opposition so what is it about smoking that makes it so different other than the fact that it currently isn’t banned? Surely if you look at this from nothing but a logical viewpoint, there can be no argument? It is a dangerous substance; it has no positive qualities (any supposed benefits – stress relief – are psychological, not physical) and is a massive financial drain on the health service. Obviously there is significant tax revenue from smoking but this is negated by the negatives effects smoking has on society.
If you want to argue against banning smoking then surely you would have to, by default, argue that the bans on heroin, cocaine, and cannabis in particular are just as invalid? After all, what sets them apart from smoking save for the social acceptability factor? It’s also not just drugs that we ban when they present a danger to society – we ban driving dangerously fast, we ban bad Doctors from practicing, we ban convicted sex offenders from working in schools, and we ban people from drinking alcohol and then driving. Yes, I am well aware of the various differentials but the point is that the precedent is set. When something is a significant danger to society it should be banned unless there is a very, very good reason not to. Civil liberty, often, is not one of them.
There is, of course, evidence that shows that smoking in public places or even very well ventilated places does very little damage to those not smoking themselves, so why not just regulate smoking so that people can only do it under those circumstances? Well, this is the bit about socially acceptable behaviour. Smokers often complain that they are already being made to feel like social pariahs. Good. I’m glad. The very last thing we need is for people to start thinking that smoking is socially acceptable again. However, we need to go further. I took up smoking because others around me took up smoking. They took up smoking because grown-ups smoked. They did so because it was, to some degree, an acceptable vice in society. That has to change.
The next generation have to grow up with an unquestioned perception in their heads that smoking is as socially unacceptable as alcoholism or drug taking. There must be no silent tolerance of parents pushing pushchairs while smoking or hanging their fag out the car window. The message these actions send to kids is clear – this is an acceptable way for adults to behave. I compare it, in terms of giving your kids the wrong impression, to spitting.
This is, admittedly, a pretty controversial stance to take and, understandably, many who smoke will feel it is an attack on them but really, it’s not: it’s an attack on our society for not properly addressing the issue. I have never understood why smoking was allowed to remain legal and for the most part poorly regulated whilst other, arguably less dangerous substances were banned. Look at the swift action taken on ‘legal highs’ recently. There was no proper consultation, no time allowed for research into the health effects; just knee jerk legislation to appease the public mood.
I used to smoke. I started young (13) and was a very heavy smoker until I was 26 when I first made the effort to stop for good. I can’t remember my last cigarette but it was a very long time ago. This doesn’t give me any deeper insight into the mind of smoker nor does my conversion to a non-smoker inform my opinion. I have had held this opinion since I was a teenager and it is borne from my frustration at what I see as staggering inconsistencies in the law.
While the Minister for Health, Edwin Poots, ponders whether to back a bill calling for smoking in cars where children are passengers to be banned, I hope he considers taking it a step further. It will upset many people for many reasons but for me it’s about the only time I agree with Helen Lovejoy of The Simpsons: won’t somebody please think of the children?