Wednesday 23 September 2020

Little Hitlers

Josie Appleton is always worth reading and she's written an excellent report for FOREST about the anti-smoking authoritarianism of local council busybodies. She made Freedom of Information requests to over 200 councils and found a range of smoking bans for staff and residents, including:

49 councils ban cigarette breaks entirely, even if workers clock off
113 councils currently ban smoking outside council buildings with some requiring employees to leave the site entirely or stand up to 50 metres from a council building to light up
29% of councils who replied had some form of ban on smoking outdoors.

Ipswich Council says that it is not enough to stand outside a council car to smoke - you have to move away from the car.  Leeds Council says: 
‘Leeds City Council employees are role models for our local communities. Employees who are visibly smoking whilst carrying out their duties are not demonstrating behaviour that encourages local communities to stop smoking.’

There is much more of this kind of thing but, as in Josie's fabulous book Officious, the report is at its best when it explains what it all says about the authorities and what they think of us.
The new restrictions on outdoor smoking are no longer even nominally justified by concrete health risks posed by smokers to other people. Instead, they are part of a new political and moral framework, a smokefree ideology, that is taking hold at all levels of the state structure, particularly regional governments and local authorities. This programme is seeking an end to the sight and presence of smoking in public spaces, not only as a public health goal but as a political and moral good and a means of social transformation. Smokefree beaches, parks, homes and workplaces are being pursued by a state structure strapped for funding and bereft of social or moral ideals. To go smokefree becomes a way in which state authorities can make a positive statement about the improvement of public spaces or of social conditions locally. ‘Smokefree’ becomes the stand-in public good, the stand-in way in which state bodies might claim to have a vision or to affect improvements in society.

... What is occurring is that the absence of tobacco is recast as a state of political, social or personal realisation. Tobacco – and, more precisely, an individual’s choice to smoke tobacco - becomes the embodiment of political and social restriction, of everything that is holding people back or preventing them from realising their potential. Therefore, tobacco control becomes a project of social realisation - of liberating people from restriction and allowing them to realise themselves.

On the Orwellian use of language:

Council smoking policies tend to state that the authority has a ‘duty of care’ to protect the health of its employees and local residents. Leeds Council says, ‘Everyone has a right to smoke if they so wish. However, Leeds City Council has a duty of care to its employees’ - and proceeds to outline how it will seek to discourage employees from smoking. This is a change in the meaning of ‘duty of care’, a phrase that would have traditionally meant the provision of public sanitation, the protection of people from accidents at work, and so on. Now this duty of care becomes a right of state intervention - trying to change the lifestyle choices people make in their everyday lives.

On the improvement of the lower orders:

The approach to tackling ‘inequality’ of ‘vulnerable’ groups is not to transform their situation in a substantive fashion (such as providing employment or housing) but merely to restrict the activity of smoking. As justification it is pointed out that smoking is much higher in socially deprived groups. Yet this gets things the wrong way around. It is more the case that smoking helps people cope with difficult situations, such as poverty or mental illness, rather than poverty or mental illness is a consequence of smoking. Yet, increasingly, social inequality is recast as the consequence of a lifestyle habit and the restriction of a lifestyle habit is seen as the answer to social inequality. The passing down of social inequality through the generations (which occurs through educational and financial factors) is re-explained as a ‘cycle of disadvantage’ through the transmission of ‘smoking behaviours’. Therefore, smokefree homes are seen as a way of breaking this cycle of disadvantage and the transmission of inequality.
 And, of course, vaping has not escaped the attention of the pocket dictators...

Smoking is also portrayed as a form of visual pollution because it is imagined that the habit is transmitted in a viral manner: if someone sees someone else smoking they may be tempted to try it themselves, or relapse if they have successfully quit. Several councils (including Islington) request that workers do not smoke in view of children.

It is for this reason that all councils (aside from one, Hull) treat vaping as smoking and impose similar restrictions upon it. The fact that vaping is one of the primary aids to quitting smoking, and has minimal health risks, is ignored. Vaping is restricted in the same way as smoking because it looks like smoking, which means that it mimics the same visual offence.

You can download The Smokefree Ideology here.

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