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article imageOp-Ed: The criminalisation of smoking, and of smokers

By Alexander Baron     May 23, 2012 in Politics
The war against smoking has gone to such extreme lengths in Britain that in some places it is now a criminal offence to smoke outside.
In 1604, James I and VI of Scotland published a famous polemic against the demon weed: A COVNTER-BLASTE TO TOBACCO.; you can read the 1884 edition free courtesy of Project Gutenberg.
Even if, like the current writer, you are not well versed in Olde Englishe, it will be clear from merely running your eye over the first few paragraphs that the King had strong opinions about smoking and wasn't afraid to express them. Throughout history, most kings have had that privilege.
James appears to have thought so ill of tobacco that he levied a heavy excise on it, though it remains to be seen if this was out of concern for health (that of his subjects) or wealth (his own).
Few people would disagree with James - even most smokers. It is indeed a filthy habit, and there are most definitely health risks associated with it. At the end of the day though, even though we live in a near total surveillance society, one in which the police can shoot a man dead with total impunity, or smash a woman's face by throwing her down onto a cell floor, we are still supposed to have certain rights.
This morning I went to the supermarket to buy, among other things, a few boxes of matches. Though a life long non-smoker I find my bacon and egg tastes better if I cook it first. At the checkout I couldn't see the matches because they are kept with the cigarettes, which since last month have to be covered, by law.
If that sounds perverse, it is not quite as perverse as the notice I saw prior to that, it was a sticker which warned that it is a criminal offence to smoke here. And here is? A bus stop, not even a shelter in any meaningful sense of the word, but a place, outdoors, where members of the public wait for buses.
At one time it was permissible to smoke on buses, upstairs. At one time, it was even permissible to smoke on the Underground, on the platform and indeed on the train itself. Mark Knopfler's song Eastbound Train sees him boarding a train at New Cross, looking for a smoking carriage. This Dire Straits track was released in 1977; in November 1984, there was a fire at Oxford Circus Underground Station - in which no one was killed or seriously injured. Following this, a complete smoking ban was brought in across the network.
The ban on smoking has now been extended to all public buildings, and even to shops; your local shopkeeper is not permitted to smoke in his own shop. Whatever happened to property rights? All the same, a bus shelter in the open air is taking this nonsense too far.
Having lost the ideological battle, the anti-smoking industry, which is staffed by academics - most of whom appear to know little or nothing about human biology - has shifted the fight to passive smoking. While at the end of the day an intelligent, informed adult has the right to commit slow motion suicide - if that is what it is - by smoking, no one has the right to injure other people, so we find Passive smoking 'raises breast cancer risk'; Heart attack admissions fall after smoking ban, and similar wonderful stories.
The big one though is the protection of children; as Chris Tame used to say, when they start talking about protecting your children, what they really mean is destroying your rights. Thus we have: MP calls for smoke ban in cars carrying children, something that could have “'tremendous' health benefits”; Passive smoking increases stillbirth risk, says study, a report on one of many academic studies on this subject, und so weiter.
All such studies profess to show a statistical correlation with smoking and ill-health; the ones that don't are either explained away or ignored. The bottom line is that smoking has to be found continuously to be more dangerous, although the evidence suggests that it is not smoking but smoking and air pollution that is responsible for most cancers, and that the best way to reduce the harmful effects of environmental toxins including of course to our children would be to clean up the air: electric cars and hydrogen cars are a big step in that direction. If the government funded anti-smoking lobby and the universities were to take half the money they spend on attacking smoking and smokers through countless useless studies, and invest it instead in developing the clean technologies of the future, we would all be much healthier, but if they did that, the lifestyle academics would have to find another source of income, and the health fascists would have to find someone else to bully.
One parting shot, there have been two very high profile deaths recently, both from cancer: Robin Gibb, vegan and teetotaller, died aged 62; Donna Summer, smoker, died aged 63. Nuff said.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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