Smoking ban brings out Labour’s worst instincts

by Kevin Meagher

So how will the new ban on smoking in a car while children are passengers actually work? Will traffic cameras scour the motorway lanes for the odd plume of cigarette smoke? Will there be spot checks on ashtray contents? Will under-18s be expected to give evidence against their nicotine-addicted parents? And why, if smoking in front of your children in a car is now deemed so heinous, does the ban not extend to the home?

Last night, MPs from all parties enthusiastically queued up to vote the measure through by 376 to 107, as they once did to push through legislation banning dangerous dogs and creating the Child Support Agency. That’s how received opinion works.

For Labour, support – unquestioning support – for this measure sends out the signal that big government, primary legislation and encroaching personal freedom remain, all too often, the first, second and third instincts of the party. Labour has, quite frankly – and entirely justifiably – a lousy reputation when it comes to defending personal liberty.

Left to its own devices, the last Labour government would have forced each of us to carry identity cards around to prove we are who we say we are at the whim of every enquiring public official, while allowing the authorities to lock-up someone without charge or trial for up to three months.

Worse, it shows yet again that any gesture cause or pressure group can overwhelm the party’s critical faculties (in this case, in the august shape of the Royal College of Physicians). Whatever happened to persuasion, or good old-fashioned Fabian gradualism as a means to bringing about change?

To be fair, this now seems a malady for our professional political class, with the Prime Minister joining this caravan (non-smoking, to be sure) of well-intentioned freedom-trimmers. Indeed, the switch in emphasis towards preventative healthcare in recent years has seen an increasingly bossy tone from our medical professionals. (And it is surely only a matter of time before we see healthcare rationing for those among us deemed resistant to their finger-wagging entreaties).

Heaven help us, but the Lib Dems have been the only people talking sense in opposing the smoking ban in cars. The high principle should be obvious enough to any democrat: this is an intrusive and clumsy foray into the rights of parents and families and yet another extension of the state into the affairs of private individuals. The pragmatic response is that without regular road checkpoints, replete with sniffer dogs, the measure is utterly, laughably, unenforceable. By definition, laws that cannot be reasonably implemented are bad laws.

If this exercise in legislative overkill is really all about “sending a message” that passive smoking is bad for children and should be discouraged, then fine; let’s explore what works best in getting parents to quit smoking voluntarily.

But why is nobody calling for cigarette manufacturers – the ultimate predatory capitalists – to alter the compound of cigarettes to make them less carcinogenic?

Or for advocates of nudge theory, why are we not getting car manufacturers to remove ashtrays and cigarette lighters as a way of discouraging the act?

For that matter, why are public health experts not calling for smokers to cut down if they cannot pack in, or even switch to roll-ups as a half-way measure in reducing overall quantities of smoking?

Our approach to public health messaging is too often lazy and obstinate; and explains why we fail to deliver any paradigm shift in public behaviour when it comes to excessive drinking and obesity.

But equally obstinate is the view that spending, taxing and regulating from the centre are the only way to deliver desirable outcomes. We cannot and should not seek to police every social interaction, especially when we do so wielding a big stick. This impulse to do so, especially in an age of austerity, is a habit that Labour really should learn to kick.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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11 Responses to “Smoking ban brings out Labour’s worst instincts”

  1. julian ruck says:

    Some sense at last, Kevin!

    I gave up trying to give up smoking a long time ago. In the end, I decided on a policy of deathly compromise.

    I smoke prison thin rollies (as you suggest), which in total probably amount to three tailor mades a day.

    As for smoking in a car with children around, most puffing drivers are fully aware that this should be avoided, so why does the State have to step in?

    Ridiculous, Parliament will be wanting to monitor our bowel movements next!


  2. swatantra says:

    Some people honestly don’t know whats good for them, or their children, so the Govt has to do the job of a responsible parent for them. I know its costly, time consuming and uses up vast resources which could be put to better uses. Hopefully a stiff fine and perhaps confiscating the car for a week might convince some adults not to be so bloody minded and thick. if they want to self harm and abuse themselves with drink drugs or whatever, thats fine by me, but don’t expect the taxpayers like me to pick up the pieces. Personally I’d send these people to the back of the queue if they sort help.

  3. John reid says:

    Good article

  4. Lynne says:

    The Labour party seems to want to demonise smokers while at the same time restrict and regulate electronic cigarettes which are harm reduction, and so ensure people keep on smoking.

    It’s time they changed their harmful quit or die attitude to smokers. Labour are fighting a losing battle as more and more smokers switch to e cigs.

  5. simon christopher says:

    Given that most of your bowel movements Julian emanate from your mouth I’d enthusiastically support that policy..

  6. Tafia says:

    Smoking should be banned outside of your own home or the home of your friends.

    Being as private landlords can insist on non smokers and no smoking in their properties then it should be banned in social housing as well.

  7. Mavern Jones says:

    Says who, Taffia?

  8. Tafia says:

    Mavern, it’s last century’s hobby and smokers have no right to inflict it on anyone without their permission. You see the smelly drug-addled creatures huddled around pub doorways or discarded to a piece of worthless land at the side of where they work. Or in shops asking for their fix from a closed cupboard like a methadone user in a chemists.

    Many private landlords now make no smoking a condition of tenancy – not just for the tenant but anyone the tenant has on the property (and by property they include the garden). Why should social housing be any different?

    In Wales we are toying with the idea of a by-law banning it from within a set distance of a doorway so that people entering and leaving premises such as pubs or offices aren’t having to go through clouds of smoke from the addicts huddled round the doorway.

  9. AnneJGP says:

    We’ve never had too much success in preventing children from smoking. Does it get easier to stop people doing things as they get older?

  10. Tafia says:

    AnneJGP. It’s a long term strategy and it’s working. Educate, isolate,castigate – chip, chip, chip.

    Hostile media campaign with pictures.
    Raise the purchase age.
    Make it difficult, uncomfortable and embarrassing to buy the product.
    Isolate them by banning it in social areas and in the workplace and further expand it from there.
    Continually raise the price faster than disposable income.
    Subconscious suggestion by continually referring to it as an addiction thus relegating smokers to the status of smack-heads.

    Eventually over several generations so few people will smoke that the retail outlets will no longer consider it viable to keep stocking them. And that will be the end of it.

  11. UnrepentantMarxist says:

    Tafia, my dear girl, you really do not see the tyranny behind this bout of puritanical regulation.
    This is about control, this is about attacking a perfectly quotidian habit that is enjoyed by all classes, all ethnic groups. If we truly live in a free society, then humans are allowed to do what they want with their bodies, and trust them to make the right decision. If they make the wrong one, than that is entirely their fault. There is firstly, very little evidence confirming the ‘dreadful harm’ of passive smoking – the only evidence shows that it harms ex smokers, and the partners of smokers. This should be up to the people who own the house – banning it simply heightens the state’s power, and as a socialist I am scared of that. The workers should be in power, we should be liberated from the ‘statist’ quo. We are being drummed and drilled, regimented and morphed into conformist, trivial dullards – the war on smoking is a smoke screen for what is really happening: the attack on benefit claimants, detention without trial for alleged offenders, the destruction of our communities, schools, hospitals, public transport, wars we do not want being conducted over seas, the attack on democratic institutions, the tyranny of the EU: I could go on. We are being fed a series of ideas to hide the realities.

    If we truly live in the 21st century, and if we really do espouse liberal values, then for the sake of society’s health, can we please leave the smokers, drinkers, druggies and gamblers alone. This is not 20th century America, this is not prohibition.

    Let us also look at the practical side of it. The prohibition of alcohol in the US failed dramatically, nearly comparable with the ‘War on drugs’. Gang warfare ensued, many gang leaders criminally controlled vast sums of the nations’s wealth, and with that monopolized political and social power in places like Chicago. The War on Drugs has costed human lives – many people are killed, maimed and attacked in the UK every year due to the illegality of drugs. Now the ‘War on Tobacco’ has pushed tobacco sales underground, thus the revenue that props up the NHS is lost, and criminal gangs are starting to gain a foothold.

    So for the sake of principle and practicality, against this increasing world of puritanism; stop with this incredible nonsensical tyranny.

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