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Guest article: A liberal approach to the smoking ban – Dave Atherton

By Mark Littlewood
June 1st, 2009 at 4:51 pm | 30 Comments | Posted in UK Politics

dave-athertonIn case you missed it, yesterday was World No Tobacco Day. Guest contributor Dave Atherton argues for the party to take a more liberal approach to the smoking ban.

“Nearly two years after its introduction, I am still finding it difficult to believe that the smoking ban has not been recommended for amendment by the Liberal Democrats.

It came as a complete surprise when Liberal Democrats voted 5 to 1 for the ban and what were the twenty five absentees doing? Sharing a cigar in Ken Clarke’s office, rolling their own in the Strangers Bar, or being forward thinking and planning the special one-off smoking rooms (for politicians and dignitaries) at this year’s G20 Summit?

The smoking ban was passed largely on the strength of the Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health (SCOTH) which concluded that second hand smoke (SHS) is potentially dangerous. A third of the members were Labour Party apparatchiks, two were members of the fake charity Action On Smoking and Health (ASH), who described their successful PR campaign as a “confidence trick”, six had received funding from pharmaceutical companies, (think how much nicotine replacement therapy products they can sell) and one was a member of the anti-smoking World Health Organization. This left just four who could be claimed to be wholly unbiased. And even one of these – in a private letter to me – admitted that they didn’t understand a basic tenet of epidemiology, Relative Risk.

What has been the net effect of the smoking ban? Since it came into effect, 4,000 pubs, clubs and bingo halls have closed, 40,000 pub staff have been made redundant and another 40,000 are set to lose their jobs in the next two years. How much of this is due to the smoking ban is hard to quantify, but the hard evidence from market analysts AC Nielsen suggests its impact has been very significant indeed.

Scotland brought in their ban in March 2007, and England in July. So there were five months of smoking and non-smoking environments to compare. Beer sales in Scotland decreased by 5%, while in England beer sales rose 4%. The Publican has recently reported that since the ban came in 23% of all bar staff have been laid off.

And have we all packed up smoking? Err no. Across the UK, 21% of women continue to smoke. Amongst men, smoking rates have risen from 23% to 24%. Youth smoking in Scotland is up from 26% to 31%. Has government nannying ever been so ineffective, and destructive?

Can the Liberal Democrats save the day? Yes – by urging Parliament to amend the ban to allow separate, ventilated (keeping the health zealots happy) premises for smoking like in Spain, Germany, Austria and Denmark, thereby allowing a legal pastime to take place on private property. Smoking rates among Labour supporters are around 30%-35% and the LibDems could go a long way to ingratiate themselves to hundreds of thousands disillusioned Labour voters. So, when you go canvassing in the industrial heartlands don’t forget your packet of Golden Virginia, it will go down well.”

Dave Atherton is a national committee member of Freedom To Choose. The opinions expressed here are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of Liberal Vision (although in this case, there probably isn’t a cigarette paper between us).

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