In 2007, the UK government, along with many other countries, banned smoking inside all workplaces, all public buildings, and all pubs. Yet although health fanatics are now completely protected from dangers they believe emanate from ‘second-hand smoke’, they were still not content, and from October 2015, it will become a criminal offence to light up in your own car if there is an under-18 year old present, even if you open windows and the sunroof. Still the health zealots are not content. Having protected themselves and ‘The Children’ from wicked smokers, they want more bans on top of this. The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), which is an influential government-lobbying charity whose president and vice presidents are all Lords and Baronesses, want smoking banned in many outdoor places. This will include all parks, public squares, beaches, school gates and pub gardens.
The casual adding of pub gardens to the list will inevitably pave the way for more bans in years to come since they are privately owned rather than publicly owned. This means a logic is put in place where part of the private sphere will no longer be seen as beyond the jurisdiction of health zealotry. Hence already in New York, the mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to ban smoking inside people’s private homes. So UK citizens should challenge the RSPH to stop such Orwellianism becoming a reality here as well. Unless we mount a challenge, groups like the RSPH will never stop.
Some people such as smoker’s rights group FOREST have criticised the RSPH saying it will accelerate the rate of pub closures and is authoritarian. Indeed this is all true – smokers will avoid pubs altogether, slashing their income to the point of closure. And there will be no way round it – a pub won’t be able to turn a blind eye to smoking in its garden because they will fear being heftily fined, or shut down by the council. But there’s also something more going on with the RSPH’s proposal that puts it in a new nadir for smoking bans: they are using criminal law to spread their own moral message.
The RSPH’s attempt to ban outdoor smoking differs from the previously mentioned smoking bans because it doesn’t use the argument about ‘second-hand smoke’ as its justification. Even the RSPH are not stupid enough to say there is a physical threat from smoke outdoors. Instead they want to ban it merely out of spite. They say smokers are “abnormal”. They believe the possibility that a child might see someone smoking is a direct influence on that individual possibly taking up smoking themselves in the future. The RSPH wants to nudge the child from growing into that bad adult by preventing them ever witnessing anyone smoking in a public place. Hence the ban is called for not because the smoke is a direct physical threat, but because it might influence a young mind. Arrogantly, the RSPH believe only they should influence young minds, no-one else, and that new criminal offences should be constructed to aid this objective.
But if one thinks about it, one can see that smoking in an outdoor public space or a pub garden is the responsible thing to do, in relation to children. It confirms to children the notion that adults want to protect them by not breathing smoke at them in a confined area (even if passive smoking is actually a threat). We might be dealing with responsible parents who do not smoke inside their houses, but would like a cigarette when outside. This can be a loving caring act, and it is wrong to label such behaviour ‘abnormal’. The RSPH are using criminal law to send out a ‘moral’ message that only they have the legitimate authority to mould a young mind, not parents, teachers, or any other traditional authority, and most certainly not the general public. The RSPH are censoring reality as if it was a soap opera. They are demanding society in all its activities must always send out ‘correct’ moral messages, and anything that is a threat to this must be banned. It is making moral conformity compulsory by threat of legal penalty. This is the stuff of a totalitarian dictatorship, not a liberal democracy.
If the RSPH really do care about the lessons being learnt by children, they might consider their own lesson they are sending out. If the RSPH’s ban goes through, this will teach children that we do not live in a free and tolerant society, and that those old ideals are bad. It will instil in their brains an ideal of conformity rather than diversity. And it will instil an idea that it is ok for the law to harass those deemed by government to be ‘abnormal’. Who wants to live in a society like that?