Thursday, 9 June 2016

Freedom to irritate

One of my active Twitter followers is a chap called Fennaldo, who gives his location as North County Dublin in Ireland, although he also says he is a part-owner of Cork City FC. I understand that he is a smoker, so I was perhaps a little surprised to see this tweet from him:

Now, this might come across as a touch “Stockholm syndrome”, but I have seen similar comments from other Irish smokers, to a much greater degree than those on this side of the Irish Sea. Maybe it’s to do with the regulations governing smoking shelters in Ireland being less restrictive, and less strictly enforced, and the average Irish pub being smaller, so you don’t have to walk fifty yards for a smoke.

Everyone is entitled to their own views, even if they are intellectually inconsistent, but I can’t help thinking that the Nanny State agenda is not one from which you can pick and choose while maintaining any claim of a logical stance. “First they came for the smokers” and all that. If you value the freedom to do the things you like, you need to support others’ freedom to do the things they like, even if you find them distasteful.

In the sidebar it says that I “walk a tightrope between libertarianism and conservatism”, which I would say is a fair summary. I’m certainly no libertarian in the Murray Rothbard sense, but I do firmly believe that the basic starting point of official policy should be that adults should be allowed to live their lives as they see fit, as long as their actions do not impinge on others. Your person is your own property, not the State’s.

This view was famously expressed by the great Victorian philosopher John Stuart Mill in his essay On Liberty.

But Mill, who was a very wise man, recognised that, while there should be a presumption in favour of individual freedom, people do not exist in isolation and the impact of their actions on others cannot be ignored. The definition of where the line of “harm” should be drawn is a subjective one and has varied over the years following changes in the overall climate of opinion.

He drew a distinction between “offence” and “harm”. There are many things that we may find personally annoying or distasteful, but don’t actually do us any meaningful harm. Therefore these should be outside the scope of any government action, unless pursued to a degree that is covered by more general laws against harassment and nuisance. I don’t like drinking in pubs where there are howling infants, but I wouldn’t dream of wanting this to be outlawed purely for my own convenience. On the other hand, business owners may well feel that having a choice of child-friendly and child-free areas maximises their trade. And government could decide that, for their own protection, children should be kept out of wet-only bars, just as they are excluded from betting shops.

The same applies to smoking in indoor public places. Yes, many find it pretty unpleasant, which is a good reason for business owners to provide non-smoking areas. But there is no conclusive evidence that it imposes any meaningful harm on customers who may expose themselves to it for a few hours a week. Sir Richard Doll, the eminent scientist who first demonstrated the link between smoking and lung cancer, is on record as saying that he personally wasn’t particularly concerned about second-hand smoke. Nobody has a right to be protected from others doing things they just find irritating.

And, even if we assume there is some demonstrable low-level harm (which I do not), then why should we prevent adults from knowingly accepting that risk in pursuit of a good time? After all, we let them play rugby, ride horses, and engage in promiscuous unprotected sex, all of which are much more conclusively proven to increase health risks. If someone wants to have a drink with their friends in a smoky bar-room, in the full knowledge that it might lead to a slightly elevated risk, then what business is it of government to stop them?

It could be argued that there is a need to protect children, who may have no choice in the matter, and adults in locations which they need to visit for essential purposes. That might be a valid reason for requiring the default in caf├ęs, restaurants and public areas such as station and airport concourses to be non-smoking, but it would still not preclude the provision of separate adults-only smoking areas.

And there is absolutely no way Mill would have remotely approved of the current blanket smoking ban. Even given the caveats expressed above, there can be no freedom-loving argument against allowing smoking in physically separate rooms, open only to adults, where there is no bar counter and no table service. What harm does that do to any others? Nobody has to go in a wet-only bar unless they willingly choose to.

(For the avoidance of doubt, this post does not address the question of risks of environmental tobacco smoke to workers)

22 comments:

  1. It used to be de rigeur to have a gasper after promiscuous unprotected sex *sighs*

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    Replies
    1. And then do the ton while riding home on your motorbike without wearing a helmet. Happy days!

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    2. Heh! Yes, I remember those days well. I also remember getting stopped by the police on my way home from the pub (in my car) and being asked to walk along the edge of the kerb. I didn't pass the test to their satisfaction, so they made me park up safely, gave me a lift home and told me I could pick the keys up from the station the following morning.

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  2. depends if you believe in rational choice theory or not I reckon.

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    1. Not sure that really has much to do with it. It's basically a question of whether you consider adults to be responsible actors who can, broadly speaking, be trusted to make judgments as to their own interests and wellbeing.

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  3. Your free will is illusory

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroscience_of_free_will

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  4. Yes our free will is being lost every year so in the end we will not have any.
    Back in the late 70s and early 80s i got the bus to work and it was full of smokers,i have never smoked,but this did not bother me,then the dinner break just an half hour was three quick pints and back into the factory.
    I had to go in the QMC in Nottingham for a week in the mid 80s,there was a smoking room for patients and a TV my wife brought in cans of bitter to cheer me up,i did put them under the chair but the nurses knew full well what was going on.

    Fast forward to 2016,if you go on bus to work the smokers are not allowed on,once into the factory if you smell of beer you are sent home to sober up even if you already feel sober,no drinking during the dinner break for the same reasons as beer is now frowned upon.
    If you go into hospital now no smoking room with a TV,just a pay for view TV at your bedside if you are lucky and can afford it.

    Fast forward to 2046,the heath police will have won the battle,the smokers will have long lost their battle and drinking of any sort will be frowned upon by society.
    So to sum up we will all have to do regular excersises morning and evening eat salads with no meat as they have now put their attention to meat eaters as there are no drinkers or smokers left.
    To end this sorry tale,we will all be like robots eating the same healthy food and not doing anything that harms our selves through diet.

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    1. Nail hit firmly on head there, Alan. And we had a damn sight more manufacturing industry when workers were allowed to have a pint at lunchtime.

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    2. I spent four weeks in the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle in 1983 (road traffic accident) Everyone in the orthopaedic ward was allowed to smoke and beer was brought in for us. We hid the beer from Matron for the sake of form but all the nurses knew what was going on and I dare say Matron did as well. Strangely, you couldn't smoke in the day room. However, the trolley that came round every morning with papers, sweets and crisps also sold fags.

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  5. Apart from Roy Castle, how many people have fallen victim to passive smoking? Hardly any.

    What's the point of some half-arsed smoking ban when people are breathing in exhaust fumes and industrial fumes all day long and there's still Chernoble fallout in the water table along with all manner of pesticide residue etc?

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    1. Roy Castle smoked cigars. That's all.

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  6. The Strange Case of Roy Castle: out of hundreds of musicians only he became a victim of passive smoking. Of course he didn't - apparently his type of cancer was not of a kind caused by smoking but he was the poster boy of an unscrupulous lobby determined to present the tiny risk of SHS as akin to sarin gas.

    Jay

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    1. Indeed - no proof whatsoever that Roy Castle's lung cancer was caused by ETS. A disgusting case of shroud-waving by the anti-smoking lobby.

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    2. Roy Castle and his wife put his illness down to passive smoking when he was playing trumpet in jazz clubs. However for most of his career Mr Castle was a children's entertainer (Panto, Record Breakers etc) where he would hardly have been subjected to much SHS. He just got unlucky, thats'all

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  7. Bravo Curmudgeon. You are right, anyone who's taken an hour to research 'Secondhand Smoke' can tell you it's complete bollocks - basically, invented in order to stigmatise smokers. Anyone who believes it's killing thousands a year, well, they WANT to believe it. The smoking ban was a solution, imposed on everyone, to a problem that didn't exist - or if it did exist, could easily have been addressed by decent ventilation and/or separate rooms.

    Re your comment about your post not addressing the risks to workers, I'd love to know how many people would rather work down a mine or an an oil rig, or even as a motorbike courier in heavy traffic, than be a barman in a well-ventilated pub - but anyway, it's worth noting that in the States, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) have studied the 'evidence' and for many years have refused to categorize SHS as a workplace hazard, despite pressure from antismoking activists.

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  8. When smoking indoors in public places was still legal, Steve Harley regularly requested that the venue he was playing put up posters telling folk not to smoke whilst he was on stage and got the bouncers to enforce it.

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    1. Which of course was his right to do. But some venues might not have appreciated artists making up their own rules.

      The late Dave Swarbrick was famous for smoking while playing the fiddle.

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    2. And look what happened to him. Two obituries

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    3. More than most of us get

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  9. A review of studies to date.

    Study: Passive smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer
    https://cfrankdavis.wordpress.com/2016/06/09/study-passive-smoking-doesnt-cause-cancer/

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  10. Here’s a good example of the obnoxious, neurotic, hysterical (eyes bulging, too) bigots produced by Public Health antismoking:

    http://www.thehealthsite.com/videos/diseases-conditions/do-this-when-you-see-someone-smoke-t0516/

    Watch the short video in the link.

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  11. Professor Pie-Tin11 June 2016 at 11:36

    I was in the Mad Pub in Madeira Beach in Florida a few weeks ago.It has 63 beers on tap and also owns a cigar shop next door where you can watch Cuban emigrants rolling surprisingly inexpensive cigars which the customer is encouraged to smoke in the bar next door.
    I was enjoying one such stogie at the end of the bar open to the outdoors when I was taken to task for indulging in the filthy habit by a passing American who caught some of my exhaled smoke.
    Things got a bit heated when I pointed out that as he weighed at least 20 stone he was more likely to keel over from a banger than die from lung cancer.
    The fat fucker wandered off into the land of the free complaining bitterly about someone enjoying a smoke.
    Personally I can't stand the hypocrisy of successive UK governments collecting tax from smokers while denying them the chance to enjoy their habit in comfort.

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