Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Smoking and freedom

There’s a very interesting blog posting at Liberal Vision:

Smoking, Freedom and all things (ob)noxious

The demolition of the “protecting the health of workers” argument is particularly good:

The third point, then, must address what is often portrayed as both the main argument and the one hardest to refute – though ASH admitted it was in fact merely a tactical ploy – which is that something must be done to protect the health of workers. This, again, is a property rights issue: every man has a property in his own person, and is able to make an informed decision as to the costs and benefits of any employment. The idea that no person should be allowed to take employment that carries a risk is absurd. Instead, the risks should be made clear and individuals should be free to determine the balance for themselves. If people are able to evaluate the risks of going to war or space, of running into burning buildings or driving 40 tonne trucks across a thin layer of ice above the Arctic Ocean, they are presumably able to evaluate the risks, and the potential rewards, in terms of wage premiums, higher overall levels of employment, and so forth.

Some might not mind working in a smoky bar; some might actively enjoy it; and some might value the extra income more than they fear the health risks. But it is their choice to make. They do not need ASH or the government taking decisions for them. It is that removal of individual choice, discretion and responsibility that is “bastardising the central plank of liberalism”.


  1. I disagree, being such a lowly paid job there is no "wage premium". People who work in pubs and bars often are faced with the choice between that or unemployment and that's not a choice that they can allow something like smoking to affect, they'd need to work regardless of affect to health.

  2. The right to risk our own lives and the right of an individual to risk the lives of others...

    Murky waters! But I tend to agree that the 'all ye who enter here' approach should prevail.

    Tell people the risks and leave them free to choose.

    If I want to 'abandon all hope', then at least I was made aware that this was to be a likely consequence of my actions, and thereby the choice to proceed was indeed a choice, and at least that choice was my own.

    This is a democratic country, largely populated by intelligent and informed humanoids.

    We are not viewed as such by those who legislate. We are viewed either as potential threats to public order or as potential drains on the public purse.

    Smoking causes illnesses which cost the government money to treat, drinking causes illnesses (and the odd brawl) which does much the same.

    The motive behind these bans, clampdowns and stigma campaigns is no great mystery - they are the government's way of reducing healthcare expenditure so that the NHS can remain 'free', because a free health service is widely recognised as the prime essential for re-election.

    They are saving votes, not lives.

  3. So nobody should be allowed to take any job that involves any more risk than sedentary office work, then?

  4. Yes, the risks should be made clear and any action taken should be in line with action taken regarding similar risks. A fairly cautious estimate is that in terms of particulate inhalation, eleven hours spent in a very smokey atmosphere is equivalent to smoking one cigarette. In a room with an extraction system, it would be many times less, say a cigarette every hundred hours. Consequently, the extra risk a bar or cafe worker would be exposed to, from venturing into a ventilated smoking room for a few minutes each night would be minuscule - absolutely, immeasurably tiny. As for unpleasant working conditions and smelly pullovers. That's a matter of opinion and choice. You wouldn't get me up a ladder, but the construction industry carries on regardless.

  5. Yes, that's exactly the point. It's less risky than construction work, farming or being in the army (most dangerous first).

    Even if Steve L is correct and the choice is bar work or unemployed, then that is still a wage premium, isn't it?

  6. I could understand the "logic" behind protecting the health of workers in a pub, club or restaurant...but I'm prepared to accept the risks to my own health, in my own workplace, where I'm the only employee (a lorry!)

  7. yeah, classing work vehicles as public places is just plain silly. I also think that dedicated smoking rooms should still be allowed as the people entering it would know its purpose. In fact a load of people smoking outside the pub entry is worse than a separate well ventilated room.


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