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Has the BMA over-reached?

November 24, 2011

Smoking in cars

The British are pretty tolerant of government health regulation – we’ve had a National Health Service for 55 years.  We grumble at punitive taxes on beer and cigs, but apart from a bit of smuggling, do nothing about it.   Speed limits, seat belts, crash helmets – we hardly grumble.

But I had thought we would resist the smoking ban in public spaces.  I don’t mean government buildings, hospitals, schools and such like, the passive smoking argument has some force in places you cannot avoid.  But private pubs, clubs and restaurants?  If owners allow smoking, and adults enter of their own volition, how could the state justify a ban?  I still can’t understand it.  But people accepted it, and set up outdoor smoking areas – so what do I know?

Last week the British Medical Association, my own trade union – forgive me – called for a ban on smoking in cars.  A complete ban, regardless of who else was in the vehicle.  Yes – even a car with a lone smoking driver.  You might have thought that would be the ideal place to smoke, but the BMA argues that it would be easier to police than a ban limited to cars with children or non-smoking passengers.

Clearly the case against such a ban needs restating.

  • Tobacco has been smoked in this country for hundreds of years.  It remains a legal, regulated, quality-controlled substance.
  • Smokers get pleasure from their activity.  They also face risks of nasty diseases.  But the risks are some way down the line, and we’ve all got to die of something.  Smoking is not an irrational behaviour.
  • It’s no business of the state to protect adults from the consequences of their own actions.
  • The passive smoking argument does not apply to drivers smoking alone.
  • The suggestion that smokers impose costs on others through their use of the NHS to treat their lung diseases is spurious.  They impose nothing – the state imposes by having a National Health Service.  The argument could just as easily justify prohibiting gay sex because of the cost of treating AIDS, or dangerous sports because of the costs of treating injuries.

I anticipate civil disobedience.  The Scots and Welsh will cave in, they’re practically all state employees now, but the English will rise up. I think.

Or maybe not. I was wrong last time.

Jim Thornton

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