Monday 17 August 2015

Arrested for being a poor role model?

I wrote this short article for City AM last week in relation to the Royal Society for Public Health's proposal of banning smoking outdoors...

It should now be clear to anyone who still needs confirmation that secondhand smoke was only ever the excuse, rather than the reason, for the 2007 smoking ban.

Its real objective, indeed the objective of all anti-smoking policies, was to harass, stigmatise and inconvenience smokers.

This is a system known as ‘denormalisation’ in the field of tobacco control and as ‘fat-shaming’ in the field of obesity. Since passive smoking was only ever a cover story, it should be no surprise that the smoke-free crusade has continued long after nonsmokers were given the whole of the country’s interior.

Anti-smoking campaigners get annoyed when people accuse them of being prohibitionists. They don’t want smoking banned completely, they will protest, and in a way this is true. There are only two places they want smoking banned: indoors and outdoors. Apart from that, smokers can do whatever they want.

It was in this spirit of tolerance and liberalism that the Royal Society for Public Health yesterday called for parks, beer gardens and other outdoor places to be turned into ‘smoking exclusion zones’. They made no claims about passive smoking and nonsmokers’ health to justify this quest for lebensraum, but they did describe smoking as an 'abnormal activity' that people shouldn’t engage in if another person might see them, ie. nearly anywhere.

This is a profoundly worrying rationale. If you have a belief in anything approaching a free society, you will understand that it is not the job of government to decide what is normal, nor is it the job of the police to arrest those who deviate from the norm.

With one in five people still smoking, it is debatable whether smokers are more ‘abnormal’ than any other minority, such as people who join anti-smoking groups, but even if they were, being a member of a harmless, if self-harming, minority does not justify state persecution.

The Royal Society for Public Health is suggesting that unusual, unhealthy or minority pursuits should be criminalised in order to set a good example to others. They want people to be arrested, fined and possibly even imprisoned for being poor role models. In a liberal society, the only appropriate response can be made with two words or two fingers.

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