Monday 13 February 2023

Speaking with forked tongue

Back in December 2021, I reported on how New Zealand was planning to introduce a kind of creeping prohibition of tobacco, with the legal purchase age being increase by one year every year. Given that tobacco is a legal product that is enjoyed by a large number of people, this is an utterly abhorrent and illiberal measure. Yes, it carries health risks, but every adult must be aware of that, and the same applies to plenty of other things people do. Also, given that smoking in public places has already been effectively denormalised already, it’s unlikely to be much of a deterrent. The main effect is likely to be handing over government revenue to the black market. It might have been thought that the departure of Jacinda Ardern might prompt a rethink, but given that her successor is someone who said that the unvaccinated should be “hunted down” that’s probably unlikely.

Now, Labour’s health spokesperson Wes Streeting has proposed that the same should be done in UK. Exactly the same issues apply – it is objectionable in principle and is likely to be impractical and problematic in operation. It will also give small shopkeepers the problem of having to establish people’s age at an ever-increasing level, unless of course they follow New Zealand’s example and restrict to tobacco sales to a small number of approved outlets, thus destroying many independent businesses.

Maybe this will never happen, but it underlines that, when it comes to lifestyle issues, whether tobacco, alcohol, food or gambling, Labour hardly has a single libertarian bone in its body. Their thoughts naturally turn to regulation, restriction, taxation and ultimately prohibition. And, while it’s obviously a legitimate position to vote in a way that goes against your personal interests, anyone imagining that a future Labour government will be good news for the pub and brewing industries in the UK, or for the consumer of alcoholic drinks, is likely to be sorely disappointed.

Yet, at the same time, former leader Ed Miliband has stated that a Labour government would be open to the legalisation of cannabis. There’s certainly a good case for this, but my support is hardly encouraged by the tendency of cannabis lobbyists to harp on about how it’s supposedly less harmful than alcohol, and states in the US that have legalised it have experienced very mixed results and completely failed to eliminate the black market. And it comes across as grossly hypocritical to seek to legalise one drug while at the same time prohibiting another, especially when in practice the two are often mixed together.

Presumably the motivation behind this is that one is fashionable, while the other isn’t, but it hardly comes across as intellectually consistent policy. It brings to mind the report I saw* that the US state of Colorado, one of the most right-on in the country, had made it illegal for employers to discriminate against cannabis users, but not tobacco users.

And of course nothing similar is ever going to be applied to alcohol, is it?

* I have definitely read this, although I don’t have a source for it.


  1. Not sure that you have the Colorado thing 100% correct; maybe I don’t either.
    It was illegal for an employer to dismiss an employee for “lawful off-duty activities” which included the consumption of alcohol. Now that marijuana is legal the law is being amended to bring it into line with alcohol consumption. I don’t think that tobacco consumption was even considered per se but “lawful off-duty activities includes activities that are lawful under state law” which would seem to cover it. Quotes from State of Colorado House Bill 20-1089.
    But whilst you cannot dismiss an employee some employers are refusing to hire nicotine users (not sure if this includes vapers as both smoker and nicotine user are utilised as terms). U-Haul have done this in 21 states although not including Colorado. Centura Health, one of Colorado's largest health systems, has been doing this since 2014 and Alaska Airlines has refused to hire smokers since the 1980s.

    1. As I said, I don't know the details. But it's pretty concerning that employers are allowed to refuse to employ people for engaging in a legal activity in their own time.

    2. All employment decisions are a form of discrimination. I chose the intelligent person over the stupid, the experienced over the inexperienced, the clean criminal record over the released jailbird. I discriminate. There are protected characteristics that are illegal to discriminate on. Race, Sex etc. Smoking or drinking is not one of them. I can legally discriminate on those characteristics if I so choose. I'm the one buying the time, I get to choose from what is available.

      Whether it is wise to discriminate on matters irrelevant to doing the job required is another matter but potential employees with unhealthy habits are a future expected cost. The candidate with the healthy habits has a point in their favour.

    3. I remember a vegan trying to claim that their dietary habits were a protected philosophical belief, although I'm not sure how far they got with it.

  2. There is certainly not a good case for the legalisation of cannabis.

    1. It's debatable. There's also a good case against it. I have to say I've become less favourably inclined to the idea than I was twenty years ago.


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