No smoking sign

No smoking

They all roll over. What else can they do in the dictatocracy? Smoking is bad for you. It kills! And according to recent adverts on British television, passive smoking is even worse, since the smoke comes from the ‘bad’ end of the cigarette. Is it any wonder the state becomes nanny when society acts so wimpish?

But society’s seemingly burgeoning fear of death isn’t the issue here, at least not to me. That issue is freedom of choice. The ban on smoking in public places perhaps has a right to be enforced; there is no choice about which train or bus station you use, after all. But when it comes down to banning smoking in all bars, pubs and restaurants, one has to ask why we are no longer allowed to choose. Are we so incapable of rational thought? For a long time now, many restaurants have had exclusive smoking sections, and many bars too have proven capable of sectioning off areas for different clientele. One might question therefore, the need for a blanket ban.

When smoking was banned in public places in California, Eddie Izzard remarked “Yes, no smoking in bars now, and soon there’ll be, no drinking and no talking!” ((Eddie Izzard, Dressed To Kill, 1999.)) It got laughs. Now, of course, the idea has spread so far as to become part of the accepted wisdom. But does anyone stop to question the accepted wisdom any more? The majority of people I’ve spoken to on the issue support the ban. Why? Because they won’t have to worry any more about getting that smokey smell out of their clothes. They aren’t worried about the health risks, and that probably shouldn’t come as a surprise when statistics appear stating:

Smoking is said to cause 3,000 deaths in NI each year, with one death every fortnight due to second-hand smoke. ((NI smoking ban comes into force, BBC News, 30 April 2007.))

By my reckoning, and you’ll have to check that because I’m not too hot at maths, that’s just under 1% of ‘said’ smoking related deaths caused by second hand smoke. All that from the ‘bad’ end of the cigarette. A fantastic saving for the health service there, assuming of course that these people will then go on to live forever. If governments have decided that smoking is too expensive in terms of potential health service requirements, then they should legislate on that side of the wedge. But of course, denying even heavy smokers access to health care for respiratory or cancer related ailments would infringe upon their human rights, as any court worth its salt would testify. Which leaves the only liable course of action for eradicating this filthy habit that of working from the other end. Tobacco taxes (we’ve seen those), education campaigns (aplenty), support for anti-smoking groups, and now bans to take smoking further outside the public sphere.

However, one swift aside here. We all know that the main beneficiaries of this blanket ban was designed to be those working in public places. Given that the alternative to such a ban could have been to allow premises to choose to operate as a smoking or non-smoking venue, or else section off areas for each type of customer, and staff the premises accordingly, it appears that a much more wide-ranging effect was sought. Which begs the question about what governments next plan to do about those who are most at risk from second hand smoke—young children and infants. An innocent baby brought up in the home of two smokers is at a much greater risk, and a much more unavoidable risk, than any publican employee or casual evening drinker. Is the next step then to legislate in the home?

Until that time, smoking in public places will now be illegal in Northern Ireland. The response there has been like that which occurred over the border when the Republic banned smoking in March, 2004, with special heated outdoor smoking areas being constructed in preparation. Goodness knows how much energy is wasted just to heat up a section of beer garden so clients can go and smoke outdoors in comfort. Of course, this now becomes an area of competition between the venues, as smokers and their friends choose establishments based on the comfort of their smoking areas. Previously, pubs on the border in Northern Ireland had seen a massive upswing in revenues, as pub-goers in the Republic voted with their feet. If ever there was evidence that freedom of choice is in demand, that was it. But they will roll over just the same. They all do.