I write as someone on the cusp of becoming an ex-smoker rather than a smoker. My status is thus unclear right now but contrary to the assertions of a reader from Oxford my vehement opposition to the ban on smoking in public places ( and especially public houses) has nothing whatsoever to do with whether I am addicted to the wicked weed or not. It is primarily a matter of personal liberties – mine as a smoker and hers as a non-smoker.
I start by admitting that smoking is a disgusting and expensive habit which curtails your life expectancy. I have no argument with this. But as an individual I should have the choice about how I lead my life. If I want to smoke, drink too much, eat junk food and end up morbidly obese that is my call. I know the risks.
The economic arguments about smoking are not as clear cut as the health Nazis would have us believe. Yes, the NHS spends a lot treating those with smoking related illnesses. But we smokers save the NHS and the State a huge sum by dying earlier than we should. It is the health fascists who linger on into their nineties, requiring ever greater care as Alzheimer’s sets in, who cost the State a packet. Meanwhile, every time I buy another 20 death weeds I am making a large contribution to the State via excise duty. On balance, having a large numbers of smokers is probably good for the State’s finances.
And so we come to the smoking ban. I rather enjoy a fag with my glasses of wine. My reader from Oxford would rather enjoy a smoke free atmosphere as she gulps down her half pint of real ale. Some landlords are smokers and others are not. Were market forces to operate smoking landlords would welcome my custom while non smokers would welcome that of the reader from Oxford. Occasionally I would go to a smoke free pub (or vice versa) in order to enjoy the company of health fascists. The free hand of the market would in due course determine the correct balance of non smoking and smoking pubs. If it turned out that 90% of the population wanted smoke free bars but landlords were split 50/50 then some of the smoking pubs would be empty while smoke free pubs would be packed. In due course some smoking landlords would have to amend their policies or go out of business. It is that simple. Under that solution the civil liberties of no-one are compromised. No-one has to work in s smoke free/smoke filled pub and no customer has to go to either sort of establishment.
The puritans who drove this ban assume, I suspect, that most drinkers want smoke free environments. Were they correct ( and actually I suspect they are wrong) then most pubs would in due course end up smelling of Body Odour but free completely of second hand smoke. In a few places we poor addicts would gather like the plebs in 1984 smoking away, watching the lottery and muttering into our beer.
What has actually happened as a result of the ban has been disastrous not only for civil liberties but also economically. The ban on smoking & drinking has led a significant minority of drinkers to opt for cheap beer from Tesco and puffing away while sitting in their living room, rather than going to their local. The number of pubs in Britain has – as a result – fallen at a far faster rate than it was falling pre-ban. Thus as consumers we are faced with a narrower choice and one usually dominated by the big chains with their plastic pictures hanging on the wall in a standard, character free, format. So in fact the reduction in the amount of choice of types of pub we can go to is even greater than the reduction in the number of outlets.
In places like Islington where our legislators live, pubs may have survived by becoming gastro-pubs generating more income from food than from drinks. In Islington folks can afford to eat out in that way. But in the real world where most folks live pubs have reacted to the fall in trade by simply closing – their customers cannot afford an organically reared chicken polenta at £12 with their pint of bitter. Economically the ban has been bad news: creating both unemployment and also less revenue for the Government. For consumers there is a drastic reduction in choice as a result of the ban. And as individuals we have had the nanny State making another choice for us about the way some of us (landlords) work and all of us spend our leisure time.
I opposed the ban and would repeal it at once not because I smoke or because I used to smoke but because I would rather live in a society where I had freedom as an individual, choice as a consumer and a state that was not ever more bankrupt and supporting more and more people on the dole. Is that really so wicked?
And to my reader from Oxford, I would point out that while it was we smokers who got a kicking this time, now that the Stare has used legislation to become nanny what is next? A super tax on chocolate and junk food? Fines for parents with fat kids? A refusal by the NHS to treat those with STDs – largely a self inflicted set of illnesses resulting from lifestyle choice? I do not wish to live in a society where the morals of a few are imposed on me in way that curtails my choice and freedom – does anybody really feel differently?