Today is National No Smoking Day and true to time-honoured tradition the government have announced that cigarettes and other tobacco products will have to be kept under the counter from 2012 in large stores and 2015 for small shops. The government is also considering even more censorship, possibly via plain packaging for cigarettes.
Away from all the government’s blather concerning enterprise, freedom and personal responsibility, the illiberal jack-boots of the do-gooders are again on the march. But this time the unintended consequences of their actions could well turn out to be demonstrably counterproductive. Indeed, once instituted, these measures will be a bridge too far for even the most ardent enemies of freedom. My guess is they will end up ushering in a world of more smoking via criminality and a vast sea of cheaper, untaxed and illicit tobacco.
Back to the future
Stigmatised, marginalised and treated with no sense of proportionality, British smokers are being reduced to the perilous and irrational status that a number of minorities suffered in Germany around 1934 and 5. Today, 23% of Britain’s are being made to feel guilty for who and what they are and everyone else is being encouraged to ‘un-normalise’ them.
In an over zealous quest for puritanical national-health-hygiene, advertising billboards have already been torn down and are now illegal. Smokers have been forcibly barred from entering many premises (restaurants, pubs, clubs and hospitals etc.,) and they are excluded from all forms of public transport. Even on a long distance twelve-carriage train, there is no room for any degree of tolerance. Forced to pay for this persecution with £5.50 in tax on every £6.50 pack of cigarettes, smokers are now the twenty-first century’s equivalent to yesterday’s racial and sexual minorities. Marginalised, persecuted and exploited smokers are the people many in society now feel comfortable in vilifying.
Time to stand up and be counted
Simultaneously pitied, hated and left out in the cold smokers are the new minority that I believe all health workers should now be protective of. For when a terror starts to strike, it is not good enough to blindly stand by and obey politicians’ orders. While I choose not to be a smoker, I recognise it is time for good people to stand up on the side of common sense, proportionality and basic tolerance. Being a British libertarian who has always hated racism, homophobia and cruelty, I have a keen sense of when things are going too far and when in the name of the public or collective good, persecution is being unacceptably legitimized.
The tide of inevitability is now turning to favour tolerance
Up until now, the greatest weapon in the armory of the intolerant has been their use of the psychology of inevitability. There is no point in resisting their commands because all resistance is futile: the future belongs to the cleansed and the pure – not the smoker.
And yet, slowly but surely, the tide is starting to turn. Devoid of commercial free speech (advertising), a seat on a train, a chair in the corner of a pub, the right to view a packet of fags above a shop counter, or for it to have a distinctive wrapper, the future is now increasingly clear.
As has already happened in Ireland, the sense of inevitability will turn to favour freedom. For there cheap tobacco is now widely available and being successfully marketed by ever more powerful criminal gangs. It is rumoured that the former IRA is a major provider and even counterfeit cigarettes are now thought to be available virtually everywhere in the country. Indeed, in recognition of the unintended horror that has been created, the Irish government is now actively avoiding any tax hikes on cigarettes for fear of making an already dire situation into a total, meltdown disaster.
Thanks to Cameron, Clegg and Lansely’s plans announced today these criminal gangs will now be eyeing up mainland Britain. Through cheap illicit tobacco they will be looking to increase their customer base and ultimately the overall number of people who smoke. Moreover, in time, they will want to spread the habit down the age range to the naive and vulnerable – in particular teenagers and young adults.
If I were a former terrorist or a member of a criminal gang at the cutting edge of Western Europe’s illicit tobacco trade, I think I would now consider ways of not only surreptitiously supporting groups like ASH and the even the public health policies of the Coalition government but I would do anything in my power to try and keep the nanny state’s sense of perpetual advancement entrenched in the UK’s psyche.
Today in Ireland, my nightmare would be that my side starts to lose the long-term sense of inevitability. If I were a die hard Al Capone, I would fear the Irish government taking a more pragmatic and tolerant stance towards tobacco, and the smoker, for if they do this it would put me out of business.
For NFR, the lesson of National No Smoking Day is simple: life is not black and white. As humans we are riven with shades of grey. When it comes to the purveyors of tobacco it is perhaps better to accept the devils we know rather than the ones we don’t. As a non-smoker this is not easy. But as a practical Brit, my nose for commonsense and fair play tells me it will be for the best. Prohibition has never and will never work.