Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Smoked Out

The video below has been doing the rounds today. It shows a psychotic anti-smoker yelling at a woman in a park in Australia. A few years ago, this guy would have been grabbed by the police, tranquilised and sent to the funny farm. Today, he has the law on his side. Smoking is banned outside in a growing number of places in Australia. Anti-smoking fanaticism has become institutional.

This lunacy needs to be nipped in the bud before it takes over Britain. Last week, the Manifesto Club launched a report in association with FOREST to catalogue the spread of outdoor smoking bans - and their extraordinary cost to the taxpayer - in the UK. It's written by Dolan Cummings and is called Smoked Out. It is well worth reading.

The report looks at the various reasons (ie. excuses) used to justify banning smoking outside. None of them stands up to the slightest scrutiny. For example, the tobacco controllers say that smoking outside creates litter while, at the same time, removing litter bins and ashtrays because they 'encourage' smoking. The argument about secondhand smoke is so weak that even the anti-smoking lobby rarely uses it in relation to the outdoors.

Ultimately, it all comes down to saving smokers from themselves and 'denormalising' smoking. In Brighton, they say they want to protect children from seeing people smoking. In psychiatric hospitals, they say that patients/inmates would be healthier if they didn't smoke. None of these are legitimate reasons for creating criminal offences in a free society, but the sheer range of arguments used shows that the anti-smokers are fishing around for an excuse to further limit smoking, rather than identifying a problem and discovering that an outdoor ban is the solution.

This is an Alice in Wonderland world in which allowing people to smoke is the same as 'encouraging' them to smoke, and not banning smoking is a failure to 'support' people who want to quit. Cummings discusses the new advice from NICE to ban smoking everywhere, inside and out, at psychiatric hospitals  and quotes the CEO of Rethink Mental Illness:

'This new guidance is really important and timely. It is scandalous that so many people with mental illness are currently given no support to stop smoking.' Thus banning smoking is rebranded as 'supporting people to stop smoking.' And the priority of dealing with serious mental conditions before worrying about smoking is sidelined in the implication that smoking is a symptom to be treated, rather than a choice taken by a patient who also remains an autonomous human being.

It's difficult to decide which is creepier, the idea that the state should force people into pristine health or the idea that adults should be role models for other people's children. Almost every anti-smoking political campaign now uses children in a way that will be familiar to scholars of totalitarian regimes. ASH bus them in to protest outside tobacco company AGMs, CR-UK use them in their plain packaging campaigns, and, as Josie Appleton says in the foreword of this report, they are used as puppets by local councils.

Children do not go off and create 'no smoking' signs on their own; the dodgy verse is not a spontaneous work of a seven-year old. When children are sent on to beaches holding signs saying 'I want this space to be smokefree', they aren't speaking for themselves. They're being used to impose the agenda of others.

The Manifesto Club have been running a tireless campaign against the over-regulation of public places for years. The point about public places, as Cummings says, is that they are for everybody.

Most public spaces are - and should be - mixed use: children playing here, a busker there, a bar there. The fact that young people are present doesn't make that space a 'children's space'. The squares that banned smoking in Bristol were next to an aquarium and other child-friendly venues, but they were also near offices and around the corner from waterfront bars. The space is defined as a 'child space' only in order to justify restricting smokers.

Sharing a public space requires tolerance, a quality that are absent in the soul of the health fascist. These bigots have taken every indoor public place in Britain. We should not concede an inch of ground to them outdoors. Let's not see any more scenes like the one in the video above.

PS. If you're in London on November 11th, come and see me debate outdoor smoking bans in psychiatric hospitals. Tickets are free but going fast. Book here.

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