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The Smoking thing again

Right, I’ve just read the consternation that Stephen Pollard caused by his backing and then subsequent backing down over supporting a smoking ban.

This was in part thanks to a tirade on the part of Harry Hatchett.

I also created quite a stir on my own blog, and there was quite a reaction to my comments over on Samizdata.

The thing is, I have so many arguments coming at me its hard to deal with each one. But I will try and cover the overall thrust of the arguments. I will try and list the objections as I see them…

1. The market should decide.
2. The State has no right to interfere with what goes on on private property.
3. I am a vested interest.
4. The ban is unenforceable.
5. The loss in tax revenue would be substantial.
6. Smoking is a social interaction.
7. Jobs in the tobacco industry would be lost as a result.

Gosh. Where to start.

Firstly, Frank McGahon. He noted:

I maintain that smoke-free workplaces are a good idea. My own workplace is non-smoking. I just don’t think a crude government ban, and one which treats all workplaces as identical, is an appropriate approach.


“This will cost the economy” or an argument about health risks of “second hand smoke”. Most frustrating of all is the notion that a “correct balance” be achieved between the “rights” of smokers and non-smokers. There is no argument from principle. Non-smokers are all for it and smokers (and publicans) are mostly against it. It seems to be taken for granted that it is appropriate for governments to take crude measures such as these, and the argument is just about the finer points of implementation.


Try to be “critical” of your own position on this. Remember you are a “vested interest”. If you work in a smoky premises and you have the opportunity to receive the benefit of a non-smoky workplace “free” (i.e. no loss in salary, convenience, etc) of course you will welcome it. It is a rational selfish choice but that doesn’t mean it is a principled position.

I am a non-smoker, I hate smoky restaurants and I’m not too keen on smoky pubs. I will receive a benefit “free” if the smoking ban is successful but it is still wrong. The fact is, people smoke in pubs because publicans recognise that smoking on premises attracts more smoking punters than deters non-smokers. If more people actually wanted non-smoking premises a properly functioning market would provide them (and you see this in restaurants).

Try to imagine the smoking ban from a different angle: take some hobby of yours and imagine that a government restriction was placed on it, not a ban (that would be “heavy-handed”!) but enough to be an inconvenience. Would you feel frustrated or would you accept that the government had a right to regulate and restrict your behaviour?

Yes, Frank, smoke-free workplaces are a great idea. But why the qualification? Why is one persons workplace better than another? If a government imposed ban is not the solution, then what is? God knows the Vintners rant on about ‘air-changes per hour’, but to anyone who’s worked in bars you know that the effect of that is negligible.

Secondly, there is an argument from principle. I believe that people have a right to work in a healthy environment – most especially where an unhealthy working environment can be changed instantly into a healthy one – as in the case of bars. It is incorrect to say that smokers are all for it, indeed in the polls I read, many smokers were in favour of the ban.

Thirdly, damn right I’m a vested interest, as is my health, and the health of all bar workers. I’m not sure of the validity of the position that “publicans recognise that smoking on premises attracts more smoking punters than deters non-smokers”. Publicans don’t care whether people smoke or not; they want them to buy beer.

It just so happens to some of the public are addicted to a substance that pollutes the environment around them, badly affecting the health of their colleagues and the staff on a premises. The question is whether a persons right to smoke precedes other people’s right to health, and whether that position is voluntary or involuntary.

Fourth, you compare smoking to a hobby. It’s not, it’s a dangerous addiction. People playing tennis is a hobby, and hey I dont mind people playing tennis – people playing cards in a pub is a hobby, and fine, there’s no cards affecting my health.

In my view, the government, just like in other employment legislation, has a right to give rights to workers. I have a right to x days holidays, I have a right to a healthy working environment.

Harry Hatchett next:

I could link to some piece of sponsored American ‘scientific research’ maybe called “Debunking the Myths of Passive Smoking” showing that fags don’t really do much harm after all. I could recall the failures of prohibition. I could point out that thousands of workers for tabacco companies will lose their jobs (especially in the developing world that anti-globalisation activists pretend to ‘care’ about). I could compare the ‘damage’ from cigarette smoke with the impact of car fumes (I suppose you want to stop my right to drive a car as well Stephen?).

Then I could raise the frightening question of how Stephen’s ‘Orwellian’ lung police are going to enforce such a ban across the length and breadth of our once-free country?

Passive smoking has a serious affect on health, many studies point to it.

Only 30 minutes of exposure to [passive smoke] causes platelets in the bloodstream to become stickier. When that happens, blood clots form more easily, which can block arteries and cause heart attacks.

Dr. Richard Sargent, one of the study’s authors, points out that eight hours of working in a smoky bar is equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. In such an environment, other studies have shown, workers more than double their chances of developing cancer and asthma, and pregnant workers put themselves at risk for miscarriage and premature delivery.

A poll released this month by Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut, reported that 59 percent of voters in the [New York] state favor prohibiting smoking in public places. Another survey, commissioned in August by anti-smoking groups, found that 70 percent of New York City voters support it.Smoking in public places also sets off an enormous domino effect in public-health spending by creating or worsening illnesses whose treatment costs are eventually shouldered by taxpayers.

Comparing alcohol prohibition to banning smoking in public places is incorrect. The argument is not to ban smoking outright – it is to ban smoking in places where people must involuntarily inhale pollutants, in a venue where such a situation can be avoided.

As for thousands of jobs of people that grow tobacco – that is also another argument that does not follow. Whether or not smoking is banned in public places, does not necessarily mean people will stop smoking, it might only encourage people to stop. And the subtext of your argument is that people should continue to smoke in order to support employment in third world countries where people are paid pittance by companies to grow a crop that kills the customers of those companies.

Pollution from cars occurs in an open environment that cannot be controlled, unless you ban cars. Smoking in pubs is a closed environment that can be controlled by banning smoking therein, but people can smoke outside where it does not affect the health of those around them.

The policing issue I think is interesting. I could bring up smoking on aircraft, and compare that to smoking in bars. Why no fight for the right for people to smoke on aircraft, or is airline policy/government legislation about smoking on flights also too much of an infringement on civil liberties?

I think people will just get used to it – policing would not be hugely expensive as it would be down to the proprietor to ensure that people are not smoking, as will be the situation in Ireland, and I believe it is in NY.

Interesting from the IHT article is the fact that in Helena, Montana –

For city residents, the rates [of heart attacks] plummeted by 58 percent in only six months.

‘‘We know from longer-term studies that the effects of secondhand smoke occur within minutes, and that long-term exposure to secondhand smoke is associated with a 30 percent increased risk in heart-attack rates,’’ says Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine who conducted the study’s statistical analysis. ‘‘But it was quite stunning to document this large an effect so quickly.’’

Quite. A 58% drop in heart attacks. Think of the money saved by the NHS. In fact, think of the people who would live, rather than die. Furthermore let me lighten the argument with an excellent quote from Bill Hicks (who died of cancer)

Whooh! It’s weird not smoking, I’ll tell you that. But I’m glad I quit y’know because I felt like to be honest with you I was on the wrong side of the war against drugs, because I smoked cigarettes and gave the tobacco lobbyists and the tobacco growers any more fuckin money for the poison they spread, and advertise all over our world thanks to: marketing! Hey [coughs] looks like that’s 15 Luv. You know what I mean isn’t that wild? y’know? The war on drugs to me is absolutely phoney, its so obviously phoney, ok? It’s a war against our civil rights, that’s all it is. They’re using it to make us afraid to go out at night, afraid of each other, so that we lock ourselves in our homes and they get suspending our rights one by one. And the fight against the war against drugs . And we’re so afraid “It all makes sense to us, it’s good they’re doing a good job” Because if the cared about us they’d get rid of the number one killer: cigarettes. Kills more people than all of the drugs times one hundred….legally. Marijuana, a drug that kills… no one…. and let’s put in a timeframe… ever. Marijuana is against the law. Now you think Pot with those kinda statistics could walk into any debate on the legalisation of drugs with confidence don’t you? “I am Pot I am going to meet nicotine and alcohol for a debate about legality hahaha” “Wait ’til they see my stats” “Frame up!” Why is pot against the law? It wouldn’t be because anyone can grow it and therefore you can’t make a profit off it would it? hahaha I’m spit balling but yeah ok yeah [clapping] alright yeah “Too fucking obvious Bill”.

One other notable critic was Verity over on Samizdata, who noted:

Dear Gavin, or may I address you as Mr Intolerance? If you “choose” to work down a coalmine, you will have to accept that you will be working underground and breathing in coal dust. If you “choose” to work as a ship’s steward, you will have to accept that you will be spending most of your life on the high seas and be vulnerable to sea sickness. People who “choose” to work in a bar accept that they will be working in smoky surroundings. The world is not going to bend to your personal will and attend to your comfort. Cruise liners aren’t going to turn themselves into non-floating hotels in permanent drydock lest you suffer from seasickness and the breadth of your career choice be thus diminished.

By the way, is it OK for people who visit bars to drink, or does the second hand smell of whisky breath nauseate you? We can always ban it and only serve non-alcoholic beverages if that would suit you better.

You don’t want to work underground, on the high seas or in a smoky environment? Avoid those careers. By the way, the myth of passive smoking is just that: a myth concocted by the antismoking industry. My goodness, Gavin, lighten up! Or, in your own tolerant words, get over it.

1. A coalmine is not a bar – and little can be done to avoid to pollutants in the air. Unlike in bars, where smoking can be banned, or at least sectioned off.

2. A ship is not a bar, and sea sickness does not kill you (at least as far as I am aware). Please compare like with like.

3. People who choose to work in bars should not have to choose to work in a unhealthy environment. This is the point. I should be able to work in a job that is healthy.

4. They can drink as much as they want, and while the smell of whiskey breath does nauseate, it does not cause the platelets in my blood to become sticky after thirty minutes, or increase the likelihood of my developing cancer by 30%.

5. Passive smoking is not a myth.

6. I take it that ‘lighten up’ was a pun?

7. ‘Get over it’ was only added to add fuel to the fire. And it was successful.

3 thoughts on “The Smoking thing again”

  1. Simply put, you do not have a right to work in a given bar, which is to say, you cannot compel them to hire you if they do not want to…and they cannot compel you to work for them if you don’t want to. This is a social interaction of choices not a force based political one. Therefore, if you elect to work for them and they elect to hire you, what gives you the right to then use (proxy) force to compel them to prohibit (or allow) smoking? You don’t like smoke? Go works somewhere else then and leave that job to someone whose risk/benefit analysis is different to yours.

Comments are closed.

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