Sunday, July 01, 2007

A New Day at Midnight

Smoking Ban
Another day, another ban
It's just a few hours since the timid new world of NuLab came a step closer, with the introduction of the smoking ban.

I've smoked since I was twenty-one, a rather bizarre age for someone to take up the habit having survived the peer pressure of teenage years, especially for someone who was just completing three years of university where the genetics of cancer related oncogenes had been a popular topic.

In terms of real practical impact on my life it isn't actually a big deal. I never smoke indoors at home and so I'm pretty conditioned to going outside for a cigarette and even in pubs and bars I've always tried to be as considerate as possible about my habit. As it happens, I've actually quite enjoyed the post-ban smoking culture in Edinburgh when I've been working there, as I tended to find most of the best people outside with me practising our filthy habit under the climate change inducing patio heater. Even non-smokers often voted with their feet and joined us. The only slight personal irritant of the ban per se is that before the prospect of the ban came along I was thinking of giving kicking the habit a go, but right now the prospect of anyone wrongly attributing a successful attempt to nannying, illiberal legislation is enough to keep me lighting up.

It is, at the end of the day, the illiberal nature of the ban that does irk. A friend of mine who provides consultancy services to the told me that the new push for a ban by the BMA and their suppernanny friends came along just as several major pub chains were considering introducing a ban across all their premises. I've got a suspicion that this timing is not coincidental. Looking at the names he mentioned it is pretty clear that there would have been an effective marketplace of smoking pubs, non-smoking pubs and once with a mixture of areas, where people could choose the type of establishment they drank or worked in. Such a satisfactory arrangement would obviously have been an anathema to the totalitarian instincts of the current government, backed by those of a similar disposition in other parties, in areas like this, which I suspect was one of the factors in the unholy rush to implement the legislation while they could still argue that there was no effective choice.

Everything Ban
Coming soon, the BMA approved pub
On top the act's immediate intent, it also has given to succour to those who want to further restrict the scope within which we make decisions about our lives, from the brainless massed ranks of zombie officialdom to that past master finger wagging, the BMA again. The Thunder Dragon reports on local councils who are seeking to impose wholly unlawful bans on lighting up in public spaces, while up and down the country there have been stories of planning applications for outdoor provision for smokers at pubs being turned down or delayed. I said to a lot of people at the time, that having got its way on this one the BMA would be back on the case of boxing, a sport I don't really care about one way or the other, and the scrum in rugby union, one I care passionately about. It took almost a fortnight from the passage of the smoking ban through it's final Commons stages for the latter to come under attack from doctor's representatives again, just a few days for the former.

The risk averse, "if we don't like it ban it" society we seem hell bent on creating is going to be an increasingly sterile one. Already it is commonly acknowledged that children going through school have less rich experience, not only because of the drive to reach pointless political targets whose results are bastardised anyway, but also because a huge range of activities have been axed in face of the risk assessments required. Likewise out of school activities are curtailed as various child protection initiatives makes every adult volunteer feel like a suspected child abuser. Ludicrous compensation awards to people who often have been patently foolish have made certain activities or businesses effectively uninsurable. In the background sit the government ready as ever to bring the clunking fist of the law to bear, whenever mass tabloid hysteria has not done its work for it.

It's not the country I was born in but, with the focus of so many 'safety first' initiatives being the young, I suspect there will be few in succeeding generations who will ever realise this other more tolerant world ever existed, where people were prepared to weigh up risks and rewards for themselves and make their own judgements.

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