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A Liberal Tolerant Nation?

October 20th, 2011 Posted in freedom, Personal Freedom by

For much of my life I have had frequent cause to feel proud to be part of a nation with a liberal tradition, famed for its ability to compromise and with a long history of standing against tyranny and oppression. The 2006 Health Act has helped to shatter my illusions. Not because I feel that it is wrong to protect people from breathing unwanted smoke but because the legislation goes far beyond what might reasonably be considered necessary and in effect turns millions of people into second class citizens.

If we temporarily ignore the debate over the health impact of passive smoking and accept that even if that case is not proven it is still reasonable in a civilised society for the majority who don’t smoke not to be subjected to detrimental effect from the minority who do, then it is possible to justify legislation and perhaps, by using the broadest definition of “harm”, to claim that such legislation is consistent with liberal values.

However, in a civilised society that claims to value liberty and democracy, legislation to protect the majority might also be reasonably expected to do so without unnecessary detrimental impact on the minority, especially when the minority is otherwise behaving within the law.

Travelling around Europe, I have noticed the ingenious solutions that many countries have adopted in order to provide smoke free environments for the majority whilst accommodating the sizeable minority who choose to smoke. This is especially noticeable in public spaces such as airports where technology has provided one answer. Indoor smoking facilities are provided at many European airports and as a non-smoker I can attest to their effectiveness. Only those who preach the anti-science doctrine of “no safe minimum exposure” could possibly argue against this approach on health grounds.

The contrast with the UK is striking. Most airports do not offer any smoking facilities airside and when facilities do exist, they take the form of a draughty open air cage.

I believe that the solutions arrived at by our more enlightened and more liberal neighbours are aligned with the majority viewpoint and are compatible with the British traditions of tolerance and fairness. They are not possible in the UK however because the 2006 Health Act intentionally goes beyond what is reasonably necessary to protect non-smokers. Apologists for this illiberal piece of legislation effectively penned by pressure groups and enacted at the expense of a broken manifesto pledge, refuse to consider provision for those who smoke even when this can evidently be achieved without significant impact on those who prefer not to be exposed to second hand smoke. This is hardly surprising as they also appear to advocate state bullying, intimidation and coercion on the basis that, in the case of public health statistics, “the end justifies the means”.

We might expect the social engineers of the far left or right to make that argument, but parliamentarians who support this legislation in its current form while claiming to espouse liberal values should hang their heads in shame. I just feel shame for my country.

Written by Chris Oakely. All photographs are the authors own.


5 Responses to “A Liberal Tolerant Nation?”

  1. Anthony D Says:

    Excellent post. That picture of East Midlands airport picture looks like a detainment camp. Is that really how we should treat people?

    I would extend this concept to other so-called public places like pubs and clubs. Extraction systems have easily solved many of the original concerns about the unpleasantness/ alleged health risks of second hand smoke. Why not allow pubs and clubs to having indoor smoking areas? The arguments against this come only from evangelical health zealots.

    If I go out with my partner we might well choose a non-smoking pub – but when we go out with our friends I want, no demand!, the option to go to a smoking pub.

    Why can’t we find a sensible option that accomodates both? It isn’t as though there aren’t enough pubs to ensure that you are both options available…Give consumers the option of making an informed choice.

  2. Angela Says:

    Yep – it really is that simple – allow choice.
    The problem has arisen because the hugely(taxpayer)funded ASH has simply too much power and influence over the politicians and, it seems, the civil servants.

    ASH started out trying to reduce harm from tobacco. That has now been replaced with (as you implied) missionary zeal to eradicate it. Whilst government continues to allow government-funded lobby groups to lobby err…..government we will never find a reasonable, liberal, tolerant, solution to this. There was talk from David Cameron that he would stop this lunacy- but that appears not to be the case. To date anyway.

  3. TJ Says:

    I would agree that anti-smoking legislation goes a step too far as it currently stands, but I have to also consider how much more enjoyable it is eating out now that there is no tobacco smoke wafting around inside pubs, cafes, restaurants etc.

    I would argue that the best solution is to license establishments that wish to operate as Smoking Clubs. Just smoking, mind. I’ve no interest in seeing the newly smoke-free venues I now enjoy backsliding into the fog for the extra custom.

    Also, an issue that’s cropped up more than once on this site is the assumption that the goal of legislation like the Smoking ban, or fat, alcohol or tobacco tax for that matter, is social engineering or behaviour modification.

    In my mind, it is not. The goal with which I justify my support for those ideas is to pay for the excess cost placed on the public health service by the free choice of the individual deciding to over-eat junk, or smoke known-to-be harmful plants or whatever. And if the smokers and drinkers are right that the NHS makes a profit on them, well, there is that great big deficit that needs paying down.

    Passive smoking is a particular problem, because those unfortunate people suffering it place an additional burden on the health service through no choice of their own, and so of course cannot be expected to contribute to the cost. Running that situation past the liberal principle of free choice, the fact of public healthcare and the need to keep control of costs where possible, it seems to me that preventing passive smoking is a very important thing to do.

  4. Bacon Says:

    Although verbally sprung from the same root (liber) liberalism has come to mean, rather than anything to do with freedom, the liberal exercise of governmental control, as near as I can see it would be difficult to be as far removed from libertarianism as liberalism is.. although these days, conservatism comes close.

  5. Angela Harbutt Says:

    Thanks for your comment that the smoking ban has gone too far. I agree.

    And yep – i too sometimes like to have a meal with out smoke – i simply think it should the the restaurant owners call not yours or mine and especially not the govts. I reckon there are enough restaurants and bars for you to enjoy your delightful smoke free meal – and me to either join you in a smoke free one or indeed visit one that allows smoking… my choice… your choice…

    After all I would really much prefer that my transatlantic flights were not spoilt with screaming infants that keep me awake for the entire flight… lets assume my view is shared by the majority of fliers… I would not insist that because I like child free flights the government should ban all infants from planes…. i would indeed defend the rights of airlines to let kids on the plane no matter what the govt dictated (or how delightful that might be for me personally)

    Long may we find a way to live side by side with out the need for the government to tell us how to do it.