Monday, February 01, 2010

Let’s clear the air

Last week, in our Spanish class, we had a debate about smoking in public places specifically bars.

As the only smoker in the class, it was left to me to defend my rights. However this was tricky because to be honest, if I had my time again, I would not smoke and I would never argue that it is OK to inflict smoke on those who don’t smoke because clearly it isn’t. If someone asks me not to smoke in their house or their presence then I don’t – full stop.

However, what I did point out in my defence was that the smoke from my pipe only affects those who who are close to me. On the other hand, the smoke from the myriad of wood fires in Bigastro affects us all. That doesn’t excuse smokers but it does highlight the disparity in the law.

Tests in America have shown that wood smoke contains more carcinogens than tobacco smoke and yet there is no move to try and stop people from burning wood on their fires during winter. Why, because cigarette smokers are an easier target.

Governments have tried a variety of tactics to stop people from smoking, principally by raising the tax levied on tobacco but also by banning adverts on TV etc. Then there was a landmark law passed which extended Europe wide on smoking in public places. The politicians who dreamt that one up must have had smug smiles on their faces.

What the ban did do was to move people out of the buildings onto the street just outside. It happened at the school I taught in where we simply stood at the gate on the public footpath much to the dismay of the headteacher. The UK health secretary, Andy Burnham, now favours extending the law to prevent non-smokers having to walk through clouds of smoke directly outside public buildings - a problem which I must point out was created by the law.

This move comes as part of a wider attempt by Burnham to set out the case for state intervention to improve public health, insisting it does not amount to a nanny state.

Tomorrow's announcements in the UK will encourage cars and homes to remain smoke-free, however Burnham will stress that the state does not have a right to intervene in a private space, even to protect children. His department plans to "work with the public sector, business and the public to communicate the dangers of smoking in the home and the car".

Burnham will also "carefully consider" the case for forcing all cigarettes to be stripped of their distinctive wrapping and sold instead in plain brown packets, in order to reduce their appeal. There will also be renewed action against black market tobacco, a ban on tobacco vending machines and extra NHS support for those who want to quit.

Whilst I will stress yet again that I am not defending smokers, I cannot help but feel that the UK government may be digging yet another hole for itself in its attempt to control the problem. I would liken this to the problem created when they extended licensing hours and then found they had a massive problem with excessive drinking. Creating a law to solve a problem which then creates an even bigger problem is something that the UK government seem to be good at.

In the end common sense will have to prevail. For example, If the ban her in Spain was extended to all public spaces inside or out then I could simply stand just inside my gate on my own private land land it would make no difference whatsoever. There is only so far that governments can go with these issues.Education rather than legislation is the answer.

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