Smoking Bans

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The Dirty Dozen: Twelve reasons why smoking bans stink====The Dirty Dozen: Twelve reasons why smoking bans stink[edit]

By Joe Jackson

Those of us who protest smoking bans do not necessarily do so just because we want to smoke, and certainly not because of any connection to the tobacco industry. (Tobacco companies have, in fact, done very little to fight smoking bans, since those bans have had very little effect on their profits.) We believe that smoking bans raise many important issues, but that these issues are being obscured by a disproportionate emphasis on ‘health’, and by a disproportionate deference to health authorities and lobby groups.

The main points of objection are, briefly:

  1. Smoking bans violate property rights. The air in a pub ‘belongs’ neither to smokers nor nonsmokers, and certainly not to politicians, but to the publican, and it is the publican who should decide the smoking policy on his or her own premises.
  2. Smoking bans set a terrible precedent by blurring the boundary between public and private, and by extending the power of government into the private sphere. A ‘public place’ should be defined as somewhere that (a) you have no choice but to enter, and/or (b) is publicly financed – i.e. by taxation. Civic offices, libraries and law courts are ‘public places’ – pubs, clubs and restaurants are not, and neither politicians nor doctors have the right to dictate what consenting adults do in them. If we concede to them that right, they will inevitably extend it to other behaviours and other places: e.g. to our cars (as they are now trying to do) and then to our homes (which has already happened in parts of the US).
  3. Smoking bans remove freedom of choice – not only the smoker’s freedom to choose a place to enjoy a legal habit, but everyone’s freedom to work out their own compromises and solutions. Such laws infantilise adult citizens and encourage a less, not more, civil society.
  4. Smoking bans are un-democratic. Far from being a result of public demand, they have, without exception, been imposed by political elites with no regard for what the public actually wants. In the UK, for instance, the former Labour government’s own Office for National Statistics found 68% of the population opposed to a total ban, and Labour promised in their Election Manifesto to ban smoking only in places serving food. But a total ban was imposed regardless. The only opinions lawmakers have listened to are those of medical authorities and lobby groups such as ASH. It should also be pointed out that these groups, which often pose as ‘charities,’ are in fact funded either by (a) the same governments which they lobby to pass antismoking legislation, or (b) pharmaceutical companies which have a vested interest in promoting their own nicotine products.
  5. Smoking bans are socially divisive and encourage intolerance. Government is blatantly stigmatising a particular group, who must change their behaviour or be excluded from ‘correct’ society (a recent campaign by the British National Health Service used the slogan ‘If you smoke, you stink’). In promoting smoking bans –especially with the justification that smokers harm the health of others - authorities have also promoted or sanctioned hatred and discrimination; stirred up animosity between friends, neighbours and family members; and caused real social damage in pursuit of illusory health ‘targets’. Bans damage the social fabric further by encouraging people to think that government can, or should, intervene to stop other people doing whatever they personally don’t approve of.
  6. Smoking bans are hypocritical, since the governments who impose them allow tobacco to remain legal, and make enormous amounts of money from taxing it. The UK government takes in around £10 billion per year from tobacco taxation – and incidentally, maintains a smoker-friendly bar in the House of Commons.
  7. Despite more and more contrived efforts by antismokers to ‘prove’ otherwise, smoking bans are bad for business, causing loss of revenue, loss of jobs, and closures everywhere they’ve been imposed. 10,000 British pubs have closed since the smoking ban, and although the ban may not be the only reason, only the most blinkered smoke-haters are denying that it’s a very significant one.
  8. Smoking bans are technologically backward, since it is not difficult, with decent modern air filtration, to make smoke virtually unnoticeable, and certainly harmless. Quite easily obtainable and affordable air-cleaning systems are used in laboratories working with toxic chemicals, and infectious disease wards in hospitals; to say they’re ‘not effective enough’ for a bar is absurd.
  9. Smoking bans do not stop people smoking. Even if we find it appropriate in the first place to ban smoking in pubs in order to pressure people into quitting, it doesn’t really work. Some places (e.g. the UK) have seen small drops in the smoking rate, but these are impossible to separate from a long-term trend; meanwhile, in other places (e.g. Ireland and Italy) smoking rates have risen since bans have been imposed. Antismoking zealots refuse to recognise that they have already reduced smokers to a ‘hard core’ who will not quit, and their increasingly bullying tactics will increasingly backfire. Even if tobacco were made illegal, millions would continue to use it.
  10. Smoking bans expect hospitality industry employees to enforce the law – which is rightly the job of the police. This sets another bad precedent, especially when members of the public are also encouraged to report violations of the ban. These are the methods of the Gestapo or the Stasi, who maintained control by making ordinary citizens fear each other.
  11. Smoking bans do not get rid of smokers, but displace them, to the only places they can smoke: the streets and the home. In the first case, it’s pretty hard for smokers not to become more visible, and to create some degree of obstruction, noise or mess; and in the second, they are, according to antismokers, poisoning their family members – or at least, setting a ‘bad example’.
  12. Finally, and most importantly, governments claim to be dismissing all the above considerations in order to tackle a deadly health threat: ‘secondhand smoke’. But there is no actual proof that even one person has died from this phantom menace. After 40 years of studies, antismokers can still only produce computer projections based on dubious statistics ‘cherry-picked’ from a small minority of dubious studies. Their ‘estimates’ and ‘relative risk ratios’ may sound scary but they mean nothing in the real world. That’s why we see, for instance, posters telling us that tobacco smoke contains various nasty-sounding chemicals, without mentioning that they are present only at infinitesimal, harmless levels.

If we accept that such feeble evidence justifies a smoking ban, we are setting the level of acceptable risk so low as to justify banning just about everything: cooking (which produces carcinogens), candles, incense, open fires, perfume, etc. Thousands of products, from household cleaners to cosmetics, contain higher levels of toxic chemicals than tobacco – and are still harmless.

It is also both patronising and illogical to forbid adults from choosing to accept the ‘risk’ of working in a smoking venue, when they are free, for instance, to work down mines, on oil rigs, fighting fires, etc etc.

Ultimately, the problem here goes way beyond ‘to smoke or not to smoke’. There is a worrying trend towards more and more intrusive legislation, justified by more and more dishonest and misleading junk science and fearmongering. (Typical of this are recent claims that the continuation of a long-term decline in heart attacks is ‘caused by’ smoking bans, and the invention of a new threat, ‘thirdhand smoke,’ on the basis of no scientific evidence whatsoever.)

What’s needed is not just the repeal of smoking bans and other illiberal laws, but a return to healthy skepticism, honest science, fairness, and common sense.


By Joe Jackson

Those of us who protest smoking bans do not necessarily do so just because we want to smoke, and certainly not because of any connection to the tobacco industry. (Tobacco companies have, in fact, done very little to fight smoking bans, since those bans have had very little effect on their profits.) We believe that smoking bans raise many important issues, but that these issues are being obscured by a disproportionate emphasis on ‘health’, and by a disproportionate deference to health authorities and lobby groups.

The main points of objection are, briefly:

  1. Smoking bans violate property rights. The air in a pub ‘belongs’ neither to smokers nor nonsmokers, and certainly not to politicians, but to the publican, and it is the publican who should decide the smoking policy on his or her own premises.
  2. Smoking bans set a terrible precedent by blurring the boundary between public and private, and by extending the power of government into the private sphere. A ‘public place’ should be defined as somewhere that (a) you have no choice but to enter, and/or (b) is publicly financed – i.e. by taxation. Civic offices, libraries and law courts are ‘public places’ – pubs, clubs and restaurants are not, and neither politicians nor doctors have the right to dictate what consenting adults do in them. If we concede to them that right, they will inevitably extend it to other behaviours and other places: e.g. to our cars (as they are now trying to do) and then to our homes (which has already happened in parts of the US).
  3. Smoking bans remove freedom of choice – not only the smoker’s freedom to choose a place to enjoy a legal habit, but everyone’s freedom to work out their own compromises and solutions. Such laws infantilise adult citizens and encourage a less, not more, civil society.
  4. Smoking bans are un-democratic. Far from being a result of public demand, they have, without exception, been imposed by political elites with no regard for what the public actually wants. In the UK, for instance, the former Labour government’s own Office for National Statistics found 68% of the population opposed to a total ban, and Labour promised in their Election Manifesto to ban smoking only in places serving food. But a total ban was imposed regardless. The only opinions lawmakers have listened to are those of medical authorities and lobby groups such as ASH. It should also be pointed out that these groups, which often pose as ‘charities,’ are in fact funded either by (a) the same governments which they lobby to pass antismoking legislation, or (b) pharmaceutical companies which have a vested interest in promoting their own nicotine products.
  5. Smoking bans are socially divisive and encourage intolerance. Government is blatantly stigmatising a particular group, who must change their behaviour or be excluded from ‘correct’ society (a recent campaign by the British National Health Service used the slogan ‘If you smoke, you stink’). In promoting smoking bans –especially with the justification that smokers harm the health of others - authorities have also promoted or sanctioned hatred and discrimination; stirred up animosity between friends, neighbours and family members; and caused real social damage in pursuit of illusory health ‘targets’. Bans damage the social fabric further by encouraging people to think that government can, or should, intervene to stop other people doing whatever they personally don’t approve of.
  6. Smoking bans are hypocritical, since the governments who impose them allow tobacco to remain legal, and make enormous amounts of money from taxing it. The UK government takes in around £10 billion per year from tobacco taxation – and incidentally, maintains a smoker-friendly bar in the House of Commons.
  7. Despite more and more contrived efforts by antismokers to ‘prove’ otherwise, smoking bans are bad for business, causing loss of revenue, loss of jobs, and closures everywhere they’ve been imposed. 10,000 British pubs have closed since the smoking ban, and although the ban may not be the only reason, only the most blinkered smoke-haters are denying that it’s a very significant one.
  8. Smoking bans are technologically backward, since it is not difficult, with decent modern air filtration, to make smoke virtually unnoticeable, and certainly harmless. Quite easily obtainable and affordable air-cleaning systems are used in laboratories working with toxic chemicals, and infectious disease wards in hospitals; to say they’re ‘not effective enough’ for a bar is absurd.
  9. Smoking bans do not stop people smoking. Even if we find it appropriate in the first place to ban smoking in pubs in order to pressure people into quitting, it doesn’t really work. Some places (e.g. the UK) have seen small drops in the smoking rate, but these are impossible to separate from a long-term trend; meanwhile, in other places (e.g. Ireland and Italy) smoking rates have risen since bans have been imposed. Antismoking zealots refuse to recognise that they have already reduced smokers to a ‘hard core’ who will not quit, and their increasingly bullying tactics will increasingly backfire. Even if tobacco were made illegal, millions would continue to use it.
  10. Smoking bans expect hospitality industry employees to enforce the law – which is rightly the job of the police. This sets another bad precedent, especially when members of the public are also encouraged to report violations of the ban. These are the methods of the Gestapo or the Stasi, who maintained control by making ordinary citizens fear each other.
  11. Smoking bans do not get rid of smokers, but displace them, to the only places they can smoke: the streets and the home. In the first case, it’s pretty hard for smokers not to become more visible, and to create some degree of obstruction, noise or mess; and in the second, they are, according to antismokers, poisoning their family members – or at least, setting a ‘bad example’.
  12. Finally, and most importantly, governments claim to be dismissing all the above considerations in order to tackle a deadly health threat: ‘secondhand smoke’. But there is no actual proof that even one person has died from this phantom menace. After 40 years of studies, antismokers can still only produce computer projections based on dubious statistics ‘cherry-picked’ from a small minority of dubious studies. Their ‘estimates’ and ‘relative risk ratios’ may sound scary but they mean nothing in the real world. That’s why we see, for instance, posters telling us that tobacco smoke contains various nasty-sounding chemicals, without mentioning that they are present only at infinitesimal, harmless levels.

If we accept that such feeble evidence justifies a smoking ban, we are setting the level of acceptable risk so low as to justify banning just about everything: cooking (which produces carcinogens), candles, incense, open fires, perfume, etc. Thousands of products, from household cleaners to cosmetics, contain higher levels of toxic chemicals than tobacco – and are still harmless.

It is also both patronising and illogical to forbid adults from choosing to accept the ‘risk’ of working in a smoking venue, when they are free, for instance, to work down mines, on oil rigs, fighting fires, etc etc.

Ultimately, the problem here goes way beyond ‘to smoke or not to smoke’. There is a worrying trend towards more and more intrusive legislation, justified by more and more dishonest and misleading junk science and fearmongering. (Typical of this are recent claims that the continuation of a long-term decline in heart attacks is ‘caused by’ smoking bans, and the invention of a new threat, ‘thirdhand smoke,’ on the basis of no scientific evidence whatsoever.)

What’s needed is not just the repeal of smoking bans and other illiberal laws, but a return to healthy skepticism, honest science, fairness, and common sense.