Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Just a smoke screen?

The British Medical Association are calling for a ban in smoking in cars.  Some facts to start the debate off:
  • Just over a fifth of adults in England smoke; the figure is slightly higher in other parts of the UK
  • It is estimated that between a third and half of smokers will light up while in a car
  • If they do so the concentration of toxins is much higher in a car than a smoky bar; some research has put it at 23-fold, although others have suggested lower figures
  • If windows are open, the concentration levels can be lower
  • Smoking is already banned in vehicles that are used for work purposes, such as taxis
  • As yet no part of the UK has banned smoking in private cars

The key point from the BMA's point of view is that the concentration can be 23 times that of a smoky bar and smoking in bars is now illegal.  

Now I don't smoke.  I would be very reluctant to get into a car where someone was smoking - the window would have to be open.  When I used to drive (haven't driven for about 5 years just for convenience reasons no other) there would be no chance of anyone lighting up in my car.  That said this is absolutely ridiculous.  

The difference with bars and cars is more than just one letter - a bar is a public place, people are employed there and diverse members of the public can often congregate in one place.  By allowing smoking in such places it penalises those who don't smoke - damaging their health should they want a job there (effectively ruling out a possible working opportunity for many).  Non smoking members of the public could take a seat in a nice fairly fresh place to find themselves right next to someone who then lights up.  The key thing here is there are externalities - quite a lot of them.  For the record, I would allow smoking bars - they would be licensed as usual bars but would be fewer in numbers, would require greater ventilation and extraction.  

The reason a car is different is that it is the owner's private property.  People who get into it do so at their own risk.  The individual has to be able to make such decisions.  The state shouldn't just ban things because they are harmful to the individual (hence my opinion on drugs legislation) as this would remove most chance of free will.  To create a hyperbole it's not just smoking in cars that harms people, driving them also does.  Plenty die each year on roads so lets just stop people doing that!  

If they are going down this route it can only be a preamble to making tobacco an illicit drug and controlling it as they do other narcotics.  They have already imposed so many restrictions on smokers that it is the next logical step - we've tried to encourage you to stop, you haven't so now we'll make you.  This will be a sad day for people's liberties.  

You can see where this is going really, I don't think the BMA expect to get this to happen... but they could get a watered down version which implies children being in the car.  Now I think anyone who is selfish enough to smoke around children (and cause them to intake stupid amounts of second hand smoke) deserves to be punished - they need to at least have a long hard look at themselves in a mirror.  But at the end of the day they are (probably) the children's parents (or at least there with their parents permission) and the Government can't stop every bad decision made by a parent in relation to their child, and nor should they.  You can't exactly force them to bring their child up in the healthiest way, it just isn't practical.  

I hope that this doesn't come anywhere legislation, we had 13 years of Labour trying to micro manage every last aspect of our lives, we don't need the Coalition to do the same!

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