I have a grievous confession to make. This weekend, I broke the law. Perching on a bar stool inside a night club in London, I pulled out a packet of Rothman’s cigarettes from the innards of my jacket, pressed the filter to my lips, lit it, and inhaled.
I smoke in bars, or at least a select few bars, very often. I am privileged to know the managerial staff of several very commendable boozing establishments, and in accordance with the customs of the exclusive Bachannal of bibulousness known amongst boozers as the ‘lock-in’, once all the public punters go home, smoking is permitted. The times that I have the physical stamina to continue drinking into the very early hours at lock-ins, those accompanying me are a healthy mix of smokers and non-smokers. Through the fumes of tobacco smoke, the more private, less threatening and (usually) cheaper event of a ‘lock-in’ provides a rare joy; having the freedom to light up a fag to enjoy with your own choice of beverage.
There is a reason why I can’t mention the names of the bars in question; the fact is that smoking in privately owned clubs and pubs open to the public has been illegal since 2007, and there remains the chance that the paternalist police will go knocking (and if you know anything about the workings of London bars, you’ll know how much of a regular problem that really is).
A by-product of the Health Act of 2006, which aimed to highlight the risks of ‘second-hand smoking’ of those situated near active smokers in enclosed spaces, the blanket ban on smoking has effectively suppressed all establishments where the public have access to from the right to choose for themselves. And the reason smokers can’t enjoy a puff with a pint? Well, there aren’t actually any good ones.
If you think there’d be some pretty convincing evidence as to the facts about second-hand smoking to warrant this extreme action, you’d be wrong. The empirical studies on the effects of second hand smoke and health risks via exposure to cigarette smoke often make no significant links between, for example, lung cancer or heart disease, and second hand smoking, even in cases of long term exposure. In fact, very often, the studies point to numerous omissions and startling cases of suppression of any data which contradicts the idea that second hand smoke is a truly serious killer, by organizations such as the World Health Organization and the EPA in the United States (for example, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute published this article, pointing to no evidential link, or this report from the Cato Institute by Gia Batta Gori, a Fellow of the Health Policy Center).
This is an example where a spurious attempt has been made to stretch the evidence as far as it will go for the purpose of a moral crusade. But, even if all the evidence did support the idea that second hand smoking, as I was no doubt not only engaging in but contributing to myself on my barstool, was truly a danger to health, wouldn’t it still be wrong to dictate such a universal ban? Isn’t it right that patrons of clubs can decide for themselves whether they want to either drink and/or dance in a bar or a club that permits indoor smoking? Invert the hypothetical; shouldn’t it be down to owners of clubs or bars to decide whether they want to allow people to smoke in their places of business?
What’s next? You can’t drink in certain sections of pubs in case you offend the sensibilities of teetotallers? You can’t cook carcinogenic food such as bacon or grilled sausage in a restaurant in case one person inhales some of it? Or, to slide down the slippery slope the other way, will it soon be the case that smokers have to keep a 15 foot distance from other members of the public at all times when they are enjoying a smoke?
Laws are supposed to not only do their utmost to protect individuals from harm, but they are also supposed to conserve their freedoms. The Smoking Ban does neither of these; instead, it rests on a premise that turns out to be smoke and mirrors.