Excuse me while I light up. I smoke a lot of cigarettes and drink a lot of black coffee whilst writing; my teeth bear the scars, but it could be worse, I suppose. At least I’m not in the ‘Lost Weekend’ league – yet. But one thought struck me as I began to type: as my home is my workplace, am I breaking the law? It’s hard to know these days. Demonisation and discrimination began on foreign soil and have slowly crept towards home soil as the ceaseless march of the prohibition nannies progresses with nary a raised voice to bring their state-sponsored moral bullying to the grinding halt it deserves. An Englishman’s home may be clinging on as his castle, but now his car has been clamped by the health fascists and their ammunition of dubious statistics that the masses accept as Gospel.
But it’s all about protecting the children, of course. That’ll be the same children stuffed to their fat little gills with ‘Mac’ Meals as they spend their school holidays bent double over their iPads because it’s too dangerous for them to leave the house without an escort lest a showbiz celebrity from the 1970s be loitering in next-door’s garden, ready to pounce and whisk them off to a Satanic mass. The latest layer of cotton wool comes in the shape of a new addition to laws that are the kind of challenge to an adult’s human rights that no court in the UK or Europe dare to question – anti-smoking ones.
As of yesterday, any adult smoking a cig whilst driving a car with a passenger under-18 riding in it can be liable to a £50 fine. That’s right – the privately-owned vehicle of a private individual will no longer be exempt from laws that began in public interiors before spreading to public exteriors. If said passenger is either 16 or 17 and happens to be smoking, however, that’s okay. What if the driver is a non-smoker, though? Is the juvenile passenger puffing away not guilty of damaging the driver’s health? Apparently not. Should the driver be susceptible to nicotine, he won’t be charged if driving a convertible with the roof down; that sounds reasonable until you think about it and realise there are only ever two or three weeks in an entire British calendar year when the driver of a convertible can dispense with his roof without feeling as though he’s travelling through an Arctic wind tunnel. Also, e-cig smokers are safe, though considering how even those vanishing vapours are gradually being targeted by the serial censors, it’s only a matter of time.
The police have complained the new law is unenforceable, and they have a point. On paper, it’s as impossible to police as the 1913 Cat and Mouse Act, which was used to combat the activities of Suffragettes, whereby a hunger striker would be released from prison when she was on the point of death and would then be under observation until she started eating again, which was sufficient cause to carry her back to the nick. The Old Bill cites more serious crimes as having priority over adults smoking a tobacco that is perfectly legal throughout the British Isles. Steve White, Chairman of the National Police Federation said ‘Should we be focusing on people smoking in cars with children in the cars or should we focusing on burglaries?’ Quite. One could add to that statement ‘Should we focusing on burglaries or should we be focusing on tracking down people who were in the Accrington Girl Guides in 1975, following an allegation of sexual abuse against a dead MP made by a confused middle-aged woman fresh from therapy?’
Although the Commons and the Lords have both backed this new law, it is the supposedly-libertine left that has most vigorously embraced the anti-smoking lobby over the past twenty years and not the right, which has traditionally been associated with a censorious outlook. Even though New Labour could hardly be labelled Socialist, there has always been a strain of patronisingly puritanical ‘we know what’s best for you’ finger-wagging running through leftish principles, born of the concept of a common good and an equality that requires a narrow definition of equality to work. Caroline Flint as Labour Health Secretary was a prime mover behind the original smoking ban in public places that came into being in 2007, before flouncing out of the Cabinet, claiming she had been treated as ‘female window dressing’; this is the same woman who had posed for a glamorous photo shoot a few months earlier. Mind you, that shoot was probably ‘empowering’.
Watch any movie or TV drama from the last century set in a contemporary Britain and one can’t help but mourn the loss of a grown-up world that has now been utterly infantilised. It often resembles some surreal version of the UK in a parallel dimension, whereby democracy is represented by adults having the luxury to make their own lifestyle choices, to express an opinion that goes against the consensus without the prospect of instant denouncement, to smoke a cigarette without having to stand out in the cold like a naughty schoolboy, to speak to a child they didn’t sire without being condemned (and, in some cases, killed) as a Paedo by a vigilante, or to say out loud words that exist on the pages of a dictionary without having to navigate their way around the minefield of sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, Islamophobia (tick whichever box is applicable). The eyes, ears and lungs of children must be shielded from everything that doesn’t conform to the Teletubby Land we now all reside in.
Whether or not one is a smoker is immaterial; if anybody claims to profess concern about the erosion of civil liberties – even in areas that don’t constitute one’s own day-to-day existence – then this further insidious expansion of a law that set the wheels of state interference in the private affairs of the individual in motion less than a decade ago matters.
To slightly reference an earlier post this week, I recall a ‘Judge Dredd’ story in an issue of 2000AD circa 1979 when smokers had been reduced to wearing what resembled astronaut helmets, so all their smoke was prevented from damaging the health of anyone but themselves. Incidentally, another prophetic scene in the same comic displayed a family containing an irritating brat whose father was poised to slap before the mother intervened, reminding him that parents can’t chastise children in the twenty-first century. As a child who had more than one imprint of an adult hand on his backside, I thought this an idealistic notion less likely than dinosaurs being resurrected via DNA samples for the purposes of feeding an overpopulated planet; as for the treatment of smokers, this too seemed a far-fetched prediction that went way beyond any concept of realism. Yet, here we are, fifteen years past the deadline date of the comic, in a country where the rights of minors take precedence over the rights of adults. Who indeed is the daddy now?