A good reason for a ban on smoking in public places is that it may stop the health risks bar and restrauant workers are exposed to. If measures to mitigate the effects of smoking (no-smoking areas, efficient ventilation) are not adequate then a ban on smoking, at least in bars and pubs, would be a good thing.
But that is not the reason the Government wants the ban. Blair apparently sees the ban as a “legacy issue” — it will be a great crusading effort for better public health for which he will be remembered in years to come.
With this ban the Government is basically saying, “You can’t smoke because it’s very bad for you”. To that most smokers would be justified in replying, “Yes we know it is bad for us, but who are you to tell us what to do?” The Government can’t help appearing like a bunch of stuck up busy bodies who regard everyone else as a bunch of losers.
But maybe we should take a deep breath, forget the paternalistic attitude and be reasonable about this. If a ban is effective and impels some people stop smoking, why should we care? According to the anti-smoking campaign ASH that is what a ban on smoking can do. “Total prohibition of smoking in the workplace strongly affects industry volume.
Smokers facing these restrictions consume 11 per cent to 15 per cent less than average and quit at a rate that is 84 per cent higher than average.”
But personally I’m still irritated and suspicious about this ban.
I should say at this point that I’m an ex-smoker. Before I gave up I began to be scared of the ill-health effects smoking was having on me. And that’s what it took for me to give up. I now think of smoking as a dangerous, smelly and expensive habit. But I still can’t help thinking we should not let this government itreat us like children who can’t be trusted to take responsibility for our own actions.
New Labour is too fond of that. Another of their proposals may be to introduce compulsory voting. As if it is us who are stupid to not want to vote, rather than the politicians who are not worth voting for!
On the other hand I don’t want to be an “anarchist” on a public health issue. A government which really represented the working class would be very concerned about raising standards of public health and safety, including helping people to kick health-destroying drug use.
And clearly bans and compulsions play a part in promoting the health and safety of a population: compulsory seat-belt wearing, speed limits and banning mobile use while driving are all measures which, while they may impede the liberty of individuals, make sense.
How does this apply to smoking? Cigarette smoking doesn’t always just affect an individual “user”, it also affects the passive smoker — usually spouses and children. But the government isn’t planning to ban smoking in private homes, so the ban is not to do with the general health of the population. It is more a way of compelling the individual smoker to give up.
It would certainly be good to be rid of cigarettes. Dying prematurely and being crippled by illness is not what most teenagers think about when they take up smoking, but nonetheless that is what smoking means for the chronically addicted. Only misanthropes and the very young (striking the live fast, die young pose perhaps) are really in favour of premature death. On the other hand, most addictions can only be kicked when the addicted really want to kick it.
All this may mean a much more aggressive rehabilitative approach. That smokers should be given much more help to stop and children and young adults should be given more help not to start.
Carrie Bickers, south London