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Thursday, 25 April 2013

Smoking: shunning, banning, fining - what's next?

Remember when Michael Bloomberg tried to ban large cups of soft drinks (a judge blocked it) and it became a thing, a meme? Not just a local ordinance but a symbol of something else? 'Big Brother' vs 'save-the-obsese-children'?

What to say of the new University of California 'educational' ordinance banning smoking everywhere: outside dorms, in the middle of lawns - everywhere, even chewing it is banned. It's unclear but marijuana cookies with a doctor's certificate seem to be OK.

According to student newspaper the Daily Bruin, how they plan to police persistent 'offenders' is opaque:
The policy, which aims to educate people about the effects of tobacco, bans the use of tobacco through the use of pipes, water-based pipes, electronic cigarettes and cigars….
Students who keep using tobacco on campus after repeatedly being told to stop would technically be violating school policy and the student code of conduct, Sarna said. She added that students could receive a warning, which means that the dean will give the student a notice stating the student’s behavior may have violated university policy or regulations. If the behavior is repeated, the student may be subject to further discipline, according to the UCLA student code of conduct.
Faculty and staff could be written up by their superiors for using tobacco on campus.
However, it is unlikely they would be fired for the violations, said Timothy Fong, associate professor of psychiatry and member of the Tobacco-Free Steering Committee.
Sarna said she hopes that group pressure to not use tobacco on campus will help to enforce the policy.
"Group pressure"? That's a bit loaded don't you think?

Shun the unbelievers

If you bought some cigarettes in Australia today you'd be looking at a packet which is one big, graphic health warning. Packaging for brands there is banned, a world first.

Now the actual banning of cigarette sales is being considered, to those born after the year 2000.

The state of Tasmania is first off the blocks. The plan, introduced last year into the state's parliament, would be introduced in 2018. No one now 12 years old or younger would ever be allowed to buy cigarettes. South Australia is considering similar action.

Australia has led world efforts on demonising smoking and now a policy of ending it altogether is the New Normal.

Supporting the Tasmanian proposal, Cameron Nolan wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald that the profits of tobacco companies are "ill-gotten gains" and compares them to the criminal drug gangs. He claims that "most" Australians "demand that our government prohibit the creation of such unscrupulous markets." Writing that Tasmania's plan will protect future generations he says that "it is time for the government to pick up a knife and cut the problem in half."

English: Cartoon showing a mourner in front of...

A conformist, illiberal society

Critics charge that what they call a ""nanny state" would create a 'slippery slope' that could lead to similar action on alcohol and fatty foods. Proposals have been made in Australia to license smokers and to only allow them to purchase so many cigarettes per day. Various places ban welfare recipients from buying cigarettes, including Los Angeles as of last month.

Other critics have called it a return to the prohibition era of bans on alcohol and a reflection of the failed 'War on Drugs'. Writing for the Australian news site Crikey, Martyn Goddard points out that existing Australian policy is working. The numbers of people smoking, especially amongst the young, has plummeted. Goddard points out that cigarettes contain an addictive substance, like currently illegal drugs, and a similar ban on cigarettes would just fuel a criminal industry illicitly supplying 'addicts'.
The patterns of cannabis use show how powerfully attractive a drug --  even a relatively non-addictive one -- can become, particularly to the young, if the allure of mild outlawry is bestowed upon it. Naughty is nice, even when it isn’t really nice at all.

It is a fantasy to say that this ban will result in a smoke-free generation. It won’t. It will lead instead to the criminalization of an entire generation of law-abiding people.
Similar bans to Tasmania's are being considered in Sweden and Singapore. In Scotland the plan is for the country to be 'smoke free' within two decades. Reports of policy under consideration there include a ban on all tobacco commerce, much more tobacco tax and laws against children ever being exposed to the sight of someone smoking.

Writes Simon Clark for of Scotland's plan:
Things have got out of hand. There is now a degree of bullying involved that is unacceptable in a tolerant society. People are no longer educated to cut down or quit. Instead they are insulted and coerced and made to feel like lepers.

As long as we don't harm other people we should be allowed to take risks. If we try to eliminate every risk through draconian legislation we create a bland, conformist, illiberal society.
Sounds about right.
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