Smoking In Cars: A Bad, Bad, Bill

 The Bill that seeks to enable a ban on smoking whilst with a child in a car is badly thought-through, argues Reece Warren

The recent amendment to the Children and Families Bill is the epitome of confusion.

On the one hand, we have a very admirable proposal for Government to protect children: yet in the exact same Bill, we have what will undoubtedly be a progression of the paternal and somewhat oppressive state. However, I’m not interested in spouting “freedom” like so many other of my respectable colleagues, but in fact  support that smoking around any person, in any environment, who does not/cannot consent, should be just as illegal as ‘smoking in a car’.

I am not a Libertarian – yet I tend to subscribe to one of their very proud dogmas (albeit an ambiguous one) – what’s known as the harm-principle. Now I don’t need to insult your intelligence by setting out what it is in great detail, but what infuriates me is the hierarchy of priorities set out by Libertarians. It appears some Libertarians prioritise the right to do as one pleases on private property over the harm principle, which, for me, is total ideological confusion.

Let me make this absolutely clear – citizens do not in my view have the right to do as they please on private property. The question is: should this be changed, and if so, to what extent? It is my opinion that the harm principle must override this right and that, if you are to harm someone (whether it be directly or indirectly) then you sacrifice your right. Your right to do what you want on your property depends on the harm principle.

So where does this fit in with my stance? I find it truly baffling on the one hand that some Libertarians claim that this is an invasion of peoples’ freedoms and yet not recognise the same sacrifice of freedom is occurring with the child(ren) within the car of the smoker. Is their freedom less than that of the smoker?

In addition, I also fail to understand why this Bill focusses only on ‘smoking with children in the car’ – to be perfectly honest, why is it totally off the table for smoking in cars, full stop, to be banned? If calling a friend whilst driving is deemed life-threatening to other drivers, then how on earth is lighting/smoking a cigarette not doing something similar? It appears that this is the Government’s way of covertly starting the attack on smokers, in order to progress it much further on at a later date.

This claim is supported by several journalists (and smokers alike) claiming that society is shunning smokers by alienating them, passing Bills against them and rather crucially, making their life choice the butt of public disgust. I somewhat share sympathy with people who hold this view, but I want to make this absolutely clear – if smoking is a dirty and vile habit, why on earth you expect people to treat you as if it isn’t so is somewhat ludicrous.

On the other hand, impartiality is the key for issues such as this. Smokers are not sub-human, and they shouldn’t be treated with total disrespect if their lifestyle has no effect on another’s life. People should be able to do as they wish if it brings no harm to others – but unfortunately this is where now begins the ambiguity of the principle.

Can it be deemed as harming other people if said person is to die from lung cancer directly caused by smoking? Aren’t their family ‘being harmed’ by the death of a mother, father, brother, grandmother, grandfather etc?

To highlight yet another paradox within this Bill, then I fail to see how a Government can make a ban on what a citizen does on one variety of privately owned ‘land’ and yet not another. If we were to conduct a study of second-hand smoke, what would be deemed more harmful – smoking around children within a house, or smoking around children within a car? Slightly obvious, if you ask me.

So what exactly is this piece of legislation from the Government? Gross paternalism or gross confusion? I fear they contain the worst elements of both. So what reforms are necessary to this Bill?

In my opinion, this Bill radiates as a covert platform for future Governments to build on in the attack against smoking altogether, rather than a means of protecting children. If a child is being harmed (and I deem second-hand smoke to be harming) then why should it matter if they’re in a car or in a house?

This Bill either needs total consistency from day one, or to not be bothered with it at all. In hindsight though, isn’t it one of the fundamental elements of paternalism never to implement radical change? Not to mention the potent question of how on earth a Government can regulate whether or not people smoke within their own house around children without a mass invasion of privacy?

It appears to me that this Bill is presenting itself in a way of ‘think of the children’ – yet not in a way you might think. They believe that smoking at all brings suffering to your children, which in some respect is very true: but, on the other hand, isn’t not eating fruit 5 times a day potentially doing the same?

The Government cannot and should not dictate ‘the good life’ to all its citizens, and should let them get on with their decisions, even if their selfish addiction costs them their life – and this is what (in my opinion) this bill is starting the process of doing. As Mill’s famous example goes, if you see someone about to jump off a bridge your only moral obligation is to check their rationality and outline the consequences/risks to them if they decide to jump – anything more is you oppressing your values onto another.

I fear that until we manage to resolve the dispute of whether killing yourself can be constituted as bringing harm to others (such as family) then we’re not even close to resolving this debate. Until then, I’ll argue that this Bill, for me, is just the start of many more Bills like this to come – you just have to decide where your line, if at all, is crossed.


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