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.