Monday 1 February 2010
To be precise: they want to ban people smoking outside the entrances to public buildings. The health secretary Andy Burnham favours such a ban to prevent non-smokers having to walk through clouds of smoke. This is part of a wider attempt by Burnham to “improve public health”. According to the Guardian:
He will set out four principles where he says intervention is justified: where it protects the health of children, where a person’s choice affects the choices of others, where barriers need to be removed to allow people to behave healthily, and where the environment can be shaped to offer healthier lifestyles.
He wants to cut the number of people in Britain who smoke to 10% of the population. Another move he is considering is banning “distinctive wrapping” from cigarette packets and insisting they are sold in plain brown packets instead. He also wants to ban cigarette vending machines and launch a renewed crackdown on the sale of blackmarket tobacco.
He claims this isn’t “nanny-statism” – but I think this is something worse. It’s a direct attack on individual rights in the same of some vague notion of “the public good”. Okay, he isn’t proposing banning smoking in private premises. Yet. But I can see that coming. He’s already said intervention is justified to protect children’s health. So how long will it be before he bans parents from smoking in their own homes “to protect the children”? He’s already got backing for a ban on smoking in cars containing children from the UK Faculty of Public Health and doctors’ leader Professor Steve Field, who called it “a form of child abuse”. This emotive language is designed to inflame public opinion – after all, who doesn’t want to stop child abuse?
No doubt some of you will say I’m spouting nonsense, that he is not eroding our individual rights. But I don’t see how you can even doubt it. Ten years ago no one would have believed that smoking would be banned in all pubs, clubs, cafes and restaurants. Yet here we are. Now he’s pushing the ban a little further; and he’s got sock-puppets like Prof Field saying parents who smoke near their children are as bad as pedophiles. In a few more years, if he gets the publicity campaign right, more people will find themselves agreeing with Field – and of course he’ll get the publicity right, that’s what the Labour government are especially good at. And then he’ll make smoking illegal. Mark my words!
Some of you will say: “So what? Smoking’s a filthy habit. You should give up, for the children’s good if not your own.” Well, when I hear the phrase “for the children”, I want to reach for my ciggies. Leave me alone, health Nazis!
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