Saturday, 27 July 2019

Stubbing out the habit

The government have, perhaps rashly, pledged to end smoking in England by 2030, as part of “a range of measures to tackle the causes of preventable ill health.” If this was some kind of infectious disease, that might be a reasonable objective. However, let’s think about this a little more deeply. While it is known to carry significant health risks, smoking is a legal activity that large numbers of people enjoy. Many of them don’t actually want to quit, as Pat Nurse explains in this article. And, if they are adults in full command of their mental faculties, why should they? Many commentators seem to forget that, whatever the risks, smoking is a very soothing and relaxing activity.

There are plenty of other activities people engage in that carry substantial risks of death, injury and ill-health, but the government seems happy to tolerate them, possibly because it would be seen as politically incorrect to criticise them. Prejudice against people on a wide range of grounds has now rightly become socially unacceptable, but it seems that much of that bile has now been redirected against smokers.

The plan doesn’t seem to involve outright prohibition, just an ongoing campaign of denormalisation and exclusion of smokers from more and more public places. However, while that may apply a continuing downward ratchet on smoking levels, it’s not going to eliminate it entirely. People would still be able to import tobacco or buy it on the black market, and smoke it in private homes or secluded areas. Even outright prohibition wouldn’t really work, as it has been so notably unsuccessful with various kinds of illegal drugs.

Of course we now have the means at our disposal to achieve a substantial reduction in smoking, by encouraging vaping as an alternative. However, this tends to be pooh-poohed by the public health lobby, both because of “not invented here” syndrome, and because it is often espoused as a recreational activity in its own right rather than simply a smoking cessation therapy. Indeed, some countries such as Australia have banned vaping altogether while continuing to tolerate smoking, which by any reasonable calculation is surely considerably more dangerous.

As has often been said, the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stone, but because something better came along. The same could be true of smoking and vaping, but it’s not going to be achieved unless the government takes a markedly more positive attitude towards vaping. The licensed trade could also play its part by ceasing to take such an absolute and dim-witted attitude – Wetherspooon’s, I’m looking at you! But it’s much easier just to continue to demonise smokers, and all too readily lump vapers in with them.

There’s currently a lot of talk of legalising, or relaxing the prohibitions, on cannabis, but it would be interesting to know how many of those who support these campaigns at the same time also want to see a further crackdown on smoking, something that comes across as a distinctly hypocritical stance. Apparently the US state of Colorado, which has legalised recreational cannabis, has passed an ordinance preventing employers from discriminating against cannabis users. But they haven’t done the same for smokers, or drinkers.

Of course, some will say, smoking is a special case, something uniquely harmful, and these tactics are never going to be turned against any other activity. Or are they? The cartoon at the top is borrowed from this blogpost by Christopher Snowdon, but it seems that nowadays the tables have been reversed. If we can eliminate smoking by 2030, then why not fatty and sugary food by 2040, and then alcohol by 2050?

11 comments:

  1. Well written. I believe you are a non smoker.

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  2. The reason for banning smoking in public places isn't entirely due to the "nanny state". Even as a smoker I found the old style "smoke filled rooms" at pubs to be quite off putting. And it is even worse with vaping; some of the flavours of vapour are even more obnoxious than tobacco smoke.

    Banning something, whether smoking or music (Wetherspoons I am looking at you :-), because it annoys a lot of your clientele would seem to be good business practice.

    But the proper answer is, and always will be, to provide comfortable, well ventilated indoor smoking rooms.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. The Stafford Mudgie28 July 2019 at 19:04

      DCBW,
      "Smoke filled rooms" at pubs though quite off putting to some were a welcome source of free nicotine to other pub goers - but yes, the sickly sweet flavours of vapour can be very obnoxious.

      Delete
  3. Not sure if I am reading this correctly, but I don't believe an employer can discriminate based on smoking or drinking unless it affects work performance or is done in the workplace. Colorado "has passed an ordinance preventing employers from discriminating against cannabis users. But they haven’t done the same for smokers, or drinkers." Since both are and have been legal for a long time there has been no need to pass an ordinance. Or am I reading that wrong?

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Smoking and drinking are not protected characteristics, so employers are entirely within their rights to discriminate against potential employees on these grounds. Doing a little bit of digging, in the USA:

      "While smokers are not a protected class under federal anti-discrimination laws, state law varies... Right now, 29 states and the District of Columbia have laws which provide smokers some level of protection. Many prevent employers from employment discrimination based on lawful, off-duty conduct, which would include smoking cigarettes. In these states, while an employer cannot refuse to hire an employee solely because the employee is a smoker, there may be exceptions. For example, some of the statutes only apply to employers with a certain number of employees, or to public employers."

      And in the UK:

      "Although it does sound like discrimination it is not against the law for employers to refuse to hire smokers. Even if the employee claims they will not smoke during work hours the employer can still refuse to hire them. One employee in the UK was dismissed 15 minutes after being hired after employers found out that she smoked. This may seem like discrimination but employers are perfectly within their rights not to hire smokers."

      By the same token, an employer could entirely legaly refuse to employ meat-eaters.

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    2. You can find info in the opposite direction. Employees in the US don't have a lot of rights, but this isn't one that bears much focus. There are other types of workplace discrimination that are far more real and actually happen. Nobody is going to bother with an ordinance on this topic. It just doesn't happen because there is no realistic threat.

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    3. Well, Colorado obviously thinks the issue is sufficiently important to legislate to protect cannabis users.

      Delete
  4. Exactly what I mean to say. Cannabis still holds a stigma. Smoking and Drinking don't hold the same stigma for employers or people in general. Hence, they don't really require the same protection. The cannabis change is new and led to the new protective ordinances.

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    Replies
    1. But why not enact it as a general protection rather than singling out one specific activity?

      Anyway: Dayton, Ohio, says new city employees can't use tobacco

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    2. It will be interesting to see when that one goes to court. Inline with this post and the new one, all I can say is when my team of 30 people go out 28 of them drink and two don't. And nobody pressures the two who don't. I just don't see this massive wave of diet coke drinkers when I take customers out.

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    3. Well, I can assure you that in the UK, at any quasi work-related social event, those proportions would probably be reversed. It seems that the anti-drink hysteria has advanced much further here than it has there - despite, or perhaps because of, the heritage of Prohibition. But, on the other hand, the US seems much more hysterically anti-vaping.

      Delete

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