The Smoking Ban

cigarThere are a number of arguments against smoking in public places, let’s look at them one at a time.

“Smoking is bad for the health of the smoker and should therefore be discouraged.”

I have no doubt that smoking is bad for the health of smokers. I also have no doubt that every single smoker is aware of this fact. Many things are bad for our health: Not eating five portions of fruit and vegetables every day, not drinking eight glasses of water a day, not exercising regularly, drinking alcohol, eating fatty foods, eating salty foods, etc, etc, etc.

However,  people have the right to determine for themselves if the pleasure they derive from an activity is adequate compensation for any impact it may have on their health ?

Do we want to live in a world where we are all force fed a nutritionally optimal diet, washed down with water, before being marched outside for mandatory exercise ?

If we own nothing else, we own our physical bodies and should be free to do with them whatever we wish, without interference from the state.

“Smoking related diseases cost the NHS billions of pounds a year, so smoking should be discouraged”

The health gestapo are increasingly using this as a reason to tell people how to live their lives.

How about the logically identical argument:

Age related diseases cost the NHS billions of pounds a year, so getting old should be discouraged
Perhaps some voluntary euthenasia, for those pesky old folk who keep getting ill and using up the budget !

Fat people, old people, disabled people, drinkers, premature babies, accident victims, etc all cost the NHS more than a tee-total, vegan marathon runner.

Most life-style choices have some impact on our health. Are we really saying that we want a world where our decisions are not ours to make freely but should be made to minimize the NHS budget !

“Most people don’t smoke and would prefer to go to pubs and restaurants without smokers”
If this were true then the free market would have solved the problem long ago. Entrepreneurs would have set up no smoking pubs, no smoking restaurants, etc and the customers would have deserted the existing establishments en-masse. Non-smokers would have ample choice and the remaining smokers would be catered for in a small number of smoking only establishments.

If it needs a government ban then obviously non-smokers were not bothered enough to vote with their wallets. If they don’t care enough to make smoke free enterprises a viable commercial proposition then why force the issue with Nanny State intervention.

Why is it not acceptable for a group of free individuals, who all chose to smoke, to get together in their own private club and smoke?

“It is a health and safety issue for workers in smoke filled environments”

I have yet to see anyone marched into a smoke filled pub at gun point and told they must work there. People are free to make choices about what sort of work they will do and for what wage. Working as a deep sea diver is probably far more dangerous than working behind a smoke filled bar, but people are allowed to do it. Professional boxers work in an extremely hazardous environment, by choice because they feel that the high rewards are ample compensation.

If people are really concerned about smoke filled environments then few people will apply for such jobs. As the supply of willing labour falls the wages on offer will rise. At some point enough people will decide that the extra wages are fair compensation for the smoke filled environment and the positions will be filled by willing workers.

Markets work very well at letting individuals decide for themselves what they want to do with their lives. The problem is that the Nanny State doesn’t like some of these freely made choices and wants to tell people how they should live.

“The Majority of People Want a Smoking Ban So it Must be a Good Thing”

Freedom is about protecting the minority from the majority mob. In Nazi Germany the people voted for Hitler and the majority supported the extermination of the Jews. In ancient rome the majority of people were in favour of slavery and feeding Christians to the lions.

Just because a majority of people think something does not make it right, or give them the right to compel a minority who think differently.

I am sure that we could generate a majority opinion in favour of banning:

Train spotting
Bird Wathcing
Fishing
Fox Hunting (Oops, already managed that one)
Morris Dancing
Supporting Manchester United
Ginger Hair
Etc,Etc,Etc<

Virtually every activity is a minority interest for part of the population. Defending freedom means supporting the minority whose activity you don’t like and hoping they will defend you when it is your minority interest that is under threat.

“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind” – John Stuart Mill – On Liberty 1869

email
This entry was posted in Current Affairs. Bookmark the permalink.
  • A good write up.

    The financial argument doesn’t work: smokers generate £12 billion a year for the Treasury. Less than £2.5 billion is spent on alleged smoking related diseases.

    The scientific argument (against second hand smoke) doesn’t work: I have now read all 78 of the original studies. Over 80% of them say that there is no significant harm from SHS. Amazingly, 5% of these studies report beneficial/protective effects!

    The Health and Safety argument doesn’t work: with better air management no-one would even be aware of smoke in a pub. If we can keep scientists safe in a lab from lethal chemicals surely we can protect pub-goers “safe” from a little cigarette smoke?

    When you boil this down, the Righteous legislated against an odour. No more and no less.

    There are many smells I don’t like. Should be ban them as well?

    CR.

    • Oops! Forgive the typo:

      “…we can protect pub-goers “safe” from…” should say “…we can keep pub-goers safe…”

      CR.

  • Simon

    Re “People are free to make choices about what sort of work they will do and for what wage”: You should try living in the real world sometimes. For many people that choice is illusory. They need to make a living and jobs are hard to find, so they work at the only place they can. I’ve had many friends who absolutely don’t want to work where they are working, but it’s all they can get. Before the smoking ban was introduced, that would mean some of those people would have had a choice between, basically, not eating, and working somewhere where their health would be ruined by other people’s smoke. Not much of a choice, really.

    • Not much of a choice, I agree, but if the only productive activity you can perform is to pull pints behind a bar, then to be honest your choices will always be rather restricted!

      In the real world there are always more choices. When you say that jobs are hard to come by, what you actually mean is that jobs for people with the skills you have to offer are hard to come by in the area you live.

      There are two new choices immediately, invest time in developing skills that are more in demand, or move to another area where there are more jobs for people with limited skills. There are other options, such as starting your own business, but the problem is that in every case these options involve effort and a willingness to take responsibility for your own life.

      But, just for arguments sake, let us examine the case assuming that you were correct and there are a group of people for whom the ONLY two choices are bar-work or starvation.The smoking ban would still make that group collectively worse off. The reason is that banning smoking has a wider impact than just improving the working conditions for that group. As with most state interventions in the free market the consequences extend beyond the thing you are trying to “improve”.

      First of all the number of bar jobs available will fall. A lot of people who go to pubs like to smoke and they will decide to drink and smoke at home. (One of the reasons why so many UK pubs have in fact closed since the smoking ban). With less bar jobs available you have removed one of the ONLY two choices for a number of this group who will now starve.

      Secondly the number of people prepared to do bar work, now it is in a pleasant smoke free environment, will increase. The competition for bar staff will increase and a number of people who had bar jobs will lose them to more capable people who are now prepared to enter the bar work marketplace. With no other choice left, those people will also starve.

      Thirdly with less bar jobs available and more people prepared to do them, the supply and demand balance will push wages for bar work down, reducing the standard of living for those who have not starved to death.

      How exactly has the smoking ban helped, even this hypothetical group ?

      • Simon

        Thanks
        for giving such a polite, considered answer.

        Your
        suggestion that people should move [to avoid working in smoke-filled pubs] troubles
        me somewhat, because being able to live in a familiar community is important. I’ve
        personally up-ended and moved to new locations before (usually for work) and
        can vouch for how stressful it is – not having the network of friends etc. that
        takes some years to build up definitely makes life harder and far less pleasant
        (and arguably it does impose a monetary cost on the economy too). I would
        certainly defend anyone’s right to move if they freely choose to do so, but
        putting someone in a situation in which they are compelled to leave their
        community when they don’t want to, including most likely leaving their friends
        and family, is something that I don’t think should be done lightly (Though of
        course it would be impossible for the Government to avoid that altogether).

        I’m in
        any case not convinced by your argument that the smoking ban reduces the number
        of jobs available. I am aware that many pubs have closed in the last few years.
        I’m not entirely convinced that the smoking ban is responsible for large
        numbers of closures (although I accept it’s plausible that’s the case), as
        there are other factors that are hard to separate out (the long term trend, the
        recession that coincidentally happened soon after the smoking ban, restrictive
        contracts imposed on pubs by breweries, the growing use of cut-price alcohol as
        loss-leaders by supermarkets etc.) but for the sake of argument let’s assume you
        are correct here. What do the people who
        aren’t going to pubs because of the smoking ban doing with their extra money?
        Human nature being what it is, in most cases they’ll simply spend roughly the
        same amount of money on something else. There’s no way to know what those other things
        are – after all noone’s going to consciously think, say, ‘It’s because of the
        smoking ban that I’m going to B & Q
        to get some DIY stuff for the house,’ they’ll just be aware they have some
        money so they go and spend it on something that they wanted to do. I think it’s
        a pretty fair assumption that for that reason any jobs lost to pubs will be
        approximately made up for by jobs generated in the rest of the economy.

        • Simon

          Oh, sorry, pasted my comment from Word as it was easier to edit there. Didn’t realize it’d get formatted with line breaks making it very hard to read. I’m happy to repost if you’re able to delete it (I don’t have privileges to, I’m assuming as the website owner you do).

      • Anonymous

        Your suggestion that people should move [to avoid working in smoke-filled pubs] troubles me somewhat, because being able to live in a familiar community is important. I’ve personally up-ended and moved to new locations before (usually for work) and can vouch for how stressful it is – not having the network of friends etc. that takes some years to build up definitely makes life harder and far less pleasant (and arguably it does impose a monetary cost on the economy too). I would certainly defend anyone’s right to move if they freely choose to do so, but putting someone in a situation in which they are compelled to leave their community when they don’t want to, including most likely leaving their friends and family, is something that I don’t think should be done lightly (Though of course it would be impossible for the Government to avoid that altogether).

        I’m in any case not convinced by your argument that the smoking ban reduces the number of jobs available. I am aware that many pubs have closed in the last few years. I’m not entirely convinced that the smoking ban is responsible for large numbers of closures (although I accept it’s plausible that’s the case), as there are other factors that are hard to separate out (the long term trend, the recession that coincidentally happened soon after the smoking ban, restrictive contracts imposed on pubs by breweries, the growing use of cut-price alcohol as loss-leaders by supermarkets etc.) but for the sake of argument let’s assume you are correct here. What will the people who aren’t going to pubs because of the smoking ban do with their extra money? Human nature being what it is, in most cases they’ll simply spend roughly the same amount of money on something else. There’s no way to know what those other things are – after all noone’s going to consciously think, say, ‘It’s because of the smoking ban that I’m going to B & Q to get some DIY stuff for the house,’ they’ll just be aware they have some money so they go and spend it on something that they wanted to do. I think it’s a pretty fair assumption that for that reason any jobs lost to pubs will be approximately made up for by jobs generated in the rest of the economy.

        • I don’t think anyone is compelled to leave their community. This confuses the issues of force and lack of desirable options.
          http://www.libertarianview.co.uk/no-freedom-for-the-poor/

          I certainly agree that it is not easy to predict the economic outcome of the smoking ban because of all the other factors at work and I agree that the money has to be spent somewhere if it is not spent in the pubs which would create new jobs.

          The whole picture would also include additional jobs being lost in the brewing and distribution businesses and of course less hospital staff would be required to treat those suffering from second hand smoke related illnesses, etc, etc.

          However, it is very unlikely that all the off-setting jobs made up in the rest of the economy would be suitable for bar workers.We have identified bar workers as the lowest skilled workers in the economy (otherwise they would have the options for work in smoke free environments without a ban).

          If, as seems a reasonable assumption, new jobs created follow the distribution of skill requirements in the rest of the economy then many of them will require more skills than the redundant bar workers possess, i.e. a lot of the bar workers will still starve.

  • Anonymous

    You say that “Freedom is about protecting the minority from the majority mob”, and yet you make the case that “the free market would have solved the problem long ago” IF it were true that most people want smoke-free pubs. The IF seems to me to suggest that you think most people in fact want to smoke. So now who needs protecting from the majority?
    It’s a sad microcosm of the dichotomy of “Freedom” – your freedom to do what you like to me, over my freedom not to have you do it.

    The heaving pubs near me on a Saturday night suggest that “market forces” couldn’t give a damn about the smoking ban either way.  The numbers who now won’t go to pubs because they can’t smoke, appear to be roughly balanced by those who can now comfortably drink in pubs who couldn’t before. In between you have the people who have made their peace with inconvenience, as always.

    I dislike the smoking ban as I think it too extreme. However, I’m personally much more inclined to use pubs now, due to the clean air. I would have much preferred a compromise solution involving licensed smoking bars, so that those who wanted to smoke and drink still could, but the onus would be on them to find a licensed venue, rather than on me to find a smokeless one. By the same token, I don’t want to see pole dancers and strippers in my local, but have no wish to see Spearmint Rhino banned. That way, everyone has a real choice. I would only support a review of the ban if a genuinely liberal compromise were on the table, not a straightforward repeal.

    • First thing is that the E-petition is not asking for repeal, it is for an amendment to allow well ventilated smoking rooms. http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/14103

      I think we are broadly in agreement about the choice issue, I would love to see pole dancers in my local, but respect your right not to want to see them.

      I don’t see what licensing adds to the free market solution, apart from bureaucracy. There are many types of pub/bar in the free market, some have pole dancers, some have Karaoke, some have thai food, some play loud music, some have pool tables. If there is a demand for a particular type of pub then the free market will generally supply it. There are noisy town centre pubs for young people and quiet country pubs for older people, pubs with gardens for families, etc, etc. I don’t see why smoking is any different to any other dimension of what a pub can offer to the public.

      Your first point is simply wrong, I don’t suggest that most people want to smoke. What I suggest is that left to their own free choices not enough people (from the group who want to go to pubs) were bothered enough about smoke to make smoke free pubs commercially viable.

      You also misunderstand freedom. you say
      “your freedom to do what you like to me. over my freedom not to have you do it”

      The fact is that anything you do has an impact on others. If I exercise my right to free speech in a pub I am not infringing your freedom just because you can hear me. I am not coercing you into listening, you are free to leave. The same goes for playing loud music or putting on strippers.

      It should be for the Landlord to decide what he will allow in his pub, those who want what he offers can frequent the pub, those that don’t can go elsewhere. In a free market those landlords who best meet public desires will prosper and those that don’t will go out of business. There is no infringement of anyone’s freedom in such a voluntary free market.

  • Harry

    You say “In Nazi Germany the majority of people voted for Hitler and supported the extermination of the Jews.” You nee to check your history as this is not true. Hitler never won a free election. There is no evidence to support this statement.

  • Samanthax88

    I LOVE HIM!!!!:P

  • Resi Tunggorono

    There’s an elephant in the room here. Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known. Once you are addicted (and for some people it happens very quickly) where is your freedom of choice? When we talk about cigarettes we are not talking about something like fruit, vegetables,water, fatty food etc. etc.  that we can choose or not choose, and when we talk about smoking we’re not talking about doing a risky job like deep-sea diving that we can accept or reject. We’re talking about a drug of addiction that, for most smokers, is almost impossible to cast off. So let’s not talk about freedom of choice here.

  • Pingback: Academics up in smoke | University Blog()