You Must Be Smoking

Following news of a 2 year old smoker, GARETH RHYS questions the limits on smoking in public places.

cigarette cigarettes healthy living law smoking smoking ban tobacco

As news broke last week of an Indonesian two-year old with a 40-a-day cigarette habit, the world is up in arms about lax smoking laws. On May 31st, we were supposed to celebrate the ridiculous ‘World No Tobacco Day’, purportedly to promote 24-hours of abstinence from tobacco in order to emphasise its damaging effects on health.

In parliaments all over the planet, meddling legislation is being hurried through. Jordan’s government has passed a politically correct law banning smoking in all public places, despite over 50% of the male population being smokers, and 18% of women. It is not unusual to see Bedouin children as young as six enjoying the odd cig with their parents; having a cigarette is even considered a rite of passage for some young Jordanian boys, and the hookah pipe is considered a wholesome family pastime. Needless to say, the draconian new ban is immensely unpopular and the Health Department say that it will be ‘strictly’ enforced with fines of up to 20 Dinars (£19) or a brief spell in prison.

Don’t get me wrong; the reasons for discouraging smoking are perfectly apparent. Especially in places shared by both smokers and non-smokers: it smells a bit gross after a night out, it is a bit of a pain eating food in a smoky atmosphere and there is the small matter of the alleged health risks of passive smoking. Admittedly, heart disease, cancer and emphysema are not cool, but at what price are we banning smoking?

In a country so plagued by binge-drinking culture and anti-social behaviour, it seems completely hypocritical that the last government introduced legislation permitting 24-hour alcohol licensing. Alcohol leads to plenty of deaths per annum, and it just seems completely anomalous to vilify smokers when there are gangs of stiletto-armed Lambrini-fuelled Cheryl Cole-wannabes beating up black cleaners in club toilets and sad lonely old men in pubs nurturing their rapidly spreading liver tumours with their 20-Strongbow-a-day habits. The hypocrisy alone cannot justify lifting the ban on smoking, but it is still just plain wrong.

What I also do not understand is: people still went to places when smoking was permitted, so why change the rules? In fact, a 2004 study funded by the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association in New York found a loss of 2000 jobs, $28.5 million dollar loss in wages, and a loss of $37 million of New York state revenue when a ban was introduced. In England, publican Nick Hogan is so adamant that smokers continue to be allowed to smoke in his free house that he has refused to pay a fine and is currently serving a 6-month stint in jail.

Of course it is right to reduce smoking in hospitals where a barrage of carcinogens is obviously ill advised, I even support banning it on public transport where it is the government’s prerogative to impose its own rules. However, I strongly disagree with the retrograde Puritanical meddling of the nanny-state, especially in privately-owned bars, pubs and clubs. It is no coincidence that the first nationwide ban on tobacco in modern times and the first major government-endorsed anti-smoking campaign was in Nazi Germany. So in some ways, the policies of Adolf Hitler live on in the incarnation of the 2007 EU Green Paper outlining proposals to impose a Europe-wide ban on smoking. Sieg Heil.

Rather than having a somewhat patronising compulsory ban on smoking, proprietors should be given a choice. After all, customers have a choice; they can vote with their feet. I don’t mind eating in a smoky restaurant or drinking in a smoky pub. Do you really prefer the undisguised smell of stale VK, vomit and piss that greets us upon entry to Cindies or Fez? At least tobacco masks that pungent combination. Actually, I would rather sit in a smoky pub with nicotine-stained walls and a bit of atmosphere than in some sterile, marble-topped, glass-tabled organic gastro-pub with a clean air policy. I would always choose fundamental civil liberty over good health any day of the week. When it comes to smoking in public places, in the words of Mohammed Rizal, the father of the two-year old fag-addict, ‘I don’t see the problem’.