If there’s one thing harder than giving up smoking yourself, it’s persuading someone else to. Most of us have a close friend or loved one whom we’d dearly like to see kick the habit, but who seems immune to all well-intentioned advice. I myself have such a relative in my life, and while I avoid constantly nagging him, I did once press the nuclear button and ask him how he would break the news to his young kids – and me – if the doc ever told him he had lung cancer.
He doesn’t really need me to spell out the risks, of course, and as the tobacco companies point out, it’s all about individual choice really. But choice in this case is also about willpower. And the fact is that, like millions of other 20-a-day men, he just doesn’t have the willpower to give up.
So on the subject of the proposed ban on smoking in cars carrying children, I’m all for it, just as I also back the ban on smoking in pubs and workplaces. No, I do not consider myself a health fascist: when Labour first introduced the ban in pubs in 2007, I was among many libertarians who thought it was the nanny state gone mad.
But around that time, another close friend was trying to give up – his second or third attempt, as I recall. This time, though, he managed it – and put his success partly down to the ban in pubs, where, being fond of a beer or two, he spent quite a bit of his time.
At first, like me, he’d thought the ban was pointless, simply forcing him to puff outside rather than at a table chatting to his friends. But as time passed, he realised that the simple act of having to go outside – especially if it was cold or wet, as it often is in this country – meant he lit up far less than he would have done while sat inside, where he would just chain smoke.
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No, of course, it didn’t make him give up completely – some willpower was still required. But he does credit it with helping him to cut down considerably, which was an important first step. For as any ex-smoker will tell you – and I speak as one myself – the pub is where the most cigarettes are smoked a day, and when trying to give up, it’s also the hardest place to face without a fag.
This, as far as I can see, is the real justification for progressive bans on smoking, be it in a bar or behind the wheel. Not because of the nuisance or spurious health risks posed to non-smokers, but because of the gentle helping hand it gives in getting smokers to quit altogether. After all, what’s worse for a child’s welfare – to be within a feet of Dad while he has a puff, or for Dad to end up dead from a smoking-related illness?
What I object to, though, as a libertarian, is the way our public health officials always insist on justifying the bans in terms of the risks to others, quoting evidence on the risks of passive smoking that is questionable to say the least, and which simply encourages the public to distrust what doctors say.
If our government wants a smoking ban, fine. But please let’s be honest about it. Let them say: “this is the nanny state, and we’re going to do what’s in your best interests”. Because just occasionally – as in the case of my relative – people can’t do what’s in their best interests themselves.
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