Smoking Ban Balls

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A lot of nonsense has been written in the blogosphere about the smoking ban being “illiberal”. It isn’t. What it is is a perfect example of how liberalism doesn’t deal in absolutes. I make it a policy of distrusting anyone who suggests otherwise.

For example, the smoking ban most definitely does pass Mill’s famous harm test. Where it fails, in my view, is in the tests of subsidiarity and proportionality. In terms of the former, it is disappointing to see Sarah Teather vote for the ban in a free vote, given her article for Centre For Um… on devolving power.

As it happens, I think that LDYS has got the balance right by calling for a licensing system. Not for the first time, LDYS has proven itself to be ahead of the more reactionary Parliamentary Party.

The real puzzle though is Simon Hughes. A few weeks ago, he lined up behind Mark “liberalising licensing laws will lead to a Christmas Crisis” Oaten on Sky News who said “you can’t pick and choose liberalism” and that he would vote against the ban. Instead he voted for a slight change in the wording, but abstained on the vote on the ban itself. This isn’t the first time that Simon’s public pronouncements haven’t been matched by his actions. On this issue I would have been inclined to support him, but he let me down. Do we really want a leader who is so inconsistent?

16 thoughts on “Smoking Ban Balls

  1. Well – maybe most of the time when I say it is “illiberal” I mean it is the “less liberal” of the possible solutions to the issue.

    Banning, where there are alternatives, however, seems to be to be illiberal as a rule of thumb.

  2. Is it really fair to criticise someone for pursuing a policy in Westminster, when the current constitutional arrangement means that that is the place where it has to be pursued?

    Surely supporters of subsidiarity shouldn’t be expected to abstain on most issues, simply because they’re currently decided at the ‘wrong’ level.

  3. It is a question of balance: is a smoking ban such a high priority that it must be enforced now, regardless of the niceties of devolution, or is devolution a higher priority?

    My own position is the latter, but I chose the word “disappointed” deliberately. I’m not “disgusted” or “outraged” I just assumed from her argument that she would have ended up on the other side of the division.

  4. I agree it isn’t clear-cut, but it isn’t true that the ban ‘definitely’ passes Mill’s harm principle. Mill argued that you can consent to be harmed, so a great deal depends on what constitutes consent – do bar staff consent?

  5. I think too much can be made of the apparent conflict between wanting X to happen and wanting decisions like X to happen at level Y, which is some other level to that which you’ve been elected.

    We could perhaps suggest that an amendment should have been proposed to devolve the ability to ban smoking to local authorities. That might be a fair criticism. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t vote for what you think is the right solution when the times comes to vote one way or the other on it, at the wrong level.

  6. Not sure what you mean about the niceties of devolution James. The vote last night only applies to England. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will be imposing bans in their own way.

  7. Fair point. Just to add to the Mill quotes though, didn’t he also argue that you shouldn’t have the freedom to sell yourself into slavery as you then wouldn’t have the option of “unselling” yourself? Doesn’t the same principle apply to the “decision” to expose yourself to passive smoking?

    Whatever. I don’t want to get the Mill fanatics hopping up and down on my head. My point is there are very few absolutes in liberalism, and you should be wary of saying there are.

  8. I don’t know what you mean by devolution either Peter. I want to devolve decision making to the lowest practical level. If a case can’t be made for a UK-wide ban, then how can one argue to a nation (be it England, Scotland or Wales) -wide ban?

  9. Was the vote whipped?

    There are a number of people who are anti the ban who seem to have abstained.

    The consequence of this ill thought-out nonsense for my (mid-terrace, no food) local will be the likes of me on the pavement, walking past notices of ‘if you do smoke please do so silently’ and annoying the neighbours (probably). Where will the ashtrays be?

    Or how will the town centre ‘vertical drinking’ establishments cater for it? If people have saved seats in a crowded bar with their coats/bags and want to smoke, once they fight their way past the bouncers, they’ll get their coats/bags nicked or lose their place/seat. It’s mind-bogglingly impractical and daft.

    James it is illiberal – it’s a nonsense, statist solution (not words I use regularly) which misses several points at once. But you’re spot on to say that licensing is the solution – as can be seen from my example above.

  10. Gareth: no it wasn’t whipped. The whips office have a policy of not whipping free votes, and I’ve since had this confirmed.

  11. Sorry. This discussion has lost me.

    At worst, smoking kills. At best, it is a pestilential nuisance.

    The new legislation will eliminate this vile practice from most enclosed public spaces. This is an unqualified benefit to everyone except the tobacco companies, so how can it be illiberal?

    Surely there is nothing illiberal about protecting people from the danger and nuisance posed by unwanted ambient tobacco smoke?

    We don’t allow people to defecate in the street, do we? Is that illiberal, too?

    I would go further and ban smoking in all public open spaces (like streets, parks, etc), in front of children anywhere, and by pregnant women.

    Part of me would love to outlaw smoking altogether, but the liberal in me says that people should be allowed to harm themselves as long as they don’t harm innocent third parties by so doing. Smoking in private and away from children (as long as one is not pregnant) is OK by me.

    I would also ban it in prisons and mental hospitals.

    Smoking on TV and in films is problematic. We have a conflict here between artistic freedom and the need to avoid positive images of tobacco.

    Historical dramas have to have smoking (even glamorous smoking) in the interests of verisimilitude. Contemporary plays are more difficult. If only criminals, prostitutes, paedophiles, war criminals and football hooligans smoke, then that’s all to the good. It sends out the right message. But should we refrain from having “normal” and “upright” people smoke just to avoid sending out the wrong message? I am very uneasy about using the arts for didactic purposes. To put it bluntly, it smells of ideological manipulation, which I find uncomfortable. Having said that, whenever someone is shown smoking on TV and is pretending to enjoy it (if anyone ever could “enjoy” such a diseased habit) I feel like chucking a brick through the screen!

  12. Sorry. This discussion has lost me.

    At worst, smoking kills. At best, it is a pestilential nuisance.

    The new legislation will eliminate this vile practice from most enclosed public spaces. This is an unqualified benefit to everyone except the tobacco companies, so how can it be illiberal?

    Surely there is nothing illiberal about protecting people from the danger and nuisance posed by unwanted ambient tobacco smoke?

    We don’t allow people to defecate in the street, do we? Is that illiberal, too?

    I would go further and ban smoking in all public open spaces (like streets, parks, etc), in front of children anywhere, and by pregnant women.

    Part of me would love to outlaw smoking altogether, but the liberal in me says that people should be allowed to harm themselves as long as they don’t harm innocent third parties by so doing. Smoking in private and away from children (as long as one is not pregnant) is OK by me.

    I would also ban it in prisons and mental hospitals.

    Smoking on TV and in films is problematic. We have a conflict here between artistic freedom and the need to avoid positive images of tobacco.

    Historical dramas have to have smoking (even glamorous smoking) in the interests of verisimilitude. Contemporary plays are more difficult. If only criminals, prostitutes, paedophiles, war criminals and football hooligans smoke, then that’s all to the good. It sends out the right message. But should we refrain from having “normal” and “upright” people smoke just to avoid sending out the wrong message? I am very uneasy about using the arts for didactic purposes. To put it bluntly, it smells of ideological manipulation, which I find uncomfortable. Having said that, whenever someone is shown smoking on TV and is pretending to enjoy it (if anyone ever could “enjoy” such a diseased habit) I feel like chucking a brick through the screen!

    In a 100 years from now we’ll be wondering in amazement how smoking ever caught on.

  13. My apologies for the two posts! The application appeared to indicate that the command had not been completed. Then a message showed up telling me that I was duplicating, so I added another line.

  14. “liberalism doesn’t deal in absolutes. I make it a policy of distrusting anyone who suggests otherwise.”

    Surely almost anyone 🙂

    I regard the evidence that passive smoking kills to be so close to nonexistence that it could not properly be used to convict someone on a charge of having an unrenewd dog licence.

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