The Smoking Ban – Health Fascism or Protecting the NHS?
BY ETHAN HARVEY
It does tell you something when we have a Prime Minister who - amid an unbearable cost-of-living, migration, NHS, and economic crisis - prefers to signal his virtue about why we shouldn’t smoke as opposed to unveiling a radical plan to rescue broken Britain. Simplified, his idea is to raise the smoking age by 1 year every year which would stop those that are 14 years old today from ever legally purchasing a cigarette.
The vast majority of people will be persuaded by this seemingly non-controversial, benevolent policy that intends to make it harder for people to corrupt their lungs with said poison. The fact that only 13.3% of people (as of 2021) smoke, along with the number of people who developed a post-pandemic, health-conscious mindset from being drilled with pervasive propaganda about why we should protect the NHS during COVID, suggests that this is certainly a safe policy to implement.
The hot, contemporary climate of domestic politics in which Sunak failed to deliver his now long-forgotten five priorities on migration, health and the economy was what probably led him down the smoking rabbit hole. At the same time, those not wearing rose-tinted glasses will recognise the complete logistical, moral and ideological absurdity of this rushed policy which has been crafted in a panic by special advisers, whose job it is to keep Sunak in number 10 rather than act in the national interest, in a daft attempt to win over the middle-ground for the looming General Election.
It was inferred at the beginning of this article that my dislike for smoking and what it does to you is fervent, but the difference between me and Mr Sunak is that I don’t have the gall to tell people what they should and should not put into their bodies. The principle of bodily autonomy was under threat during the Johnson era when it was mandated that every NHS nurse and doctor have an injection or lose their job. This insane policy was later discarded after up to 100,000 nurses and doctors faced the sack for exercising their bodily autonomy by deciding against undergoing a medical procedure. This analogy can be used in an argument against a smoking ban – a ruthless, discriminatory policy which uses the notion of health as a guise for more state interference.
The adoption of the Chinese-style, state-oriented approach to dealing with health crises by Western governments, through shutting down the economy and imposing house arrest to ‘control the spread’, is perhaps indicative of a wider disintegration of domestic individual rights which is justified by the belief that us little people are too stupid to make our own decisions.
Lockdowns, for example, were arguably unnecessary. They were brought in during a time when the behavioural patterns of British citizens had dramatically altered in response to the news of the threat of a new, contagious airborne virus. The number of people in crowded areas had declined and fewer people convened in pubs. Yet a government in panic mode decided to impose draconian restrictions, such as the fining of people sitting on park benches, because not everyone had ‘followed the rules’.
The argument that we need to ban smoking because not everyone has given it up after pressure to do so denies the reality of human nature that not everyone follows the herd. So, even when the Government locked us down, not everyone was going to adhere to the rules. Just like if the government bans smoking after a certain age, not everyone is going to listen; it arguably provokes wider problems such as the creation of new black markets where revenue is transferred from the state to criminal gangs in illegal trade.
This analogy can be used to expose Sunak’s anti-conservative smoking policy which, like his government’s response to a pandemic, is unnecessary, reactionary, and irrational. This emotionally driven, anti-common-sense policy ignores the fact that the number of smokers has already significantly declined since the 60s.
In 1962, 70% of men and 40% of women in the UK smoked. Some can recall the melancholy scene of smoke-polluted pubs where young children had to inhale potentially dangerous toxins at the behest of their nicotine-possessed parents. Since then, the public domain has exposed the dangers of smoking and its potential long-term health defects.
Packets of cigarettes contain graphic images of the tainted human insides of chain smokers in a patronising plea for cigarette users to give up. Smoking is banned in most public spaces. All of these sensible, non-invasive measures introduced to deter people from smoking have undeniably worked. Only 12.9% of people smoke as of 2022 – no ban required. Despite this, for some reason, the government have decided it is a perfect time for a ban.
The timing is peculiar. It was announced during a speech held at a deeply divided Conservative Party Conference in which most attendees had floating in the back of their minds the expectation of an election defeat. With a likely Tory defeat on the horizon, a theory that has become embedded in the minds of the general public thanks to its reinforcement by the media and opinion polls, what better than for Sunak to distract us all with an exciting policy designed to reduce strain on the NHS and make us healthier? Of course, the policy sounds attractive which is why it was announced, along with the abolition of A-Levels, to unite people across the political hemisphere – far easier to dish out than anything tribal such as NHS and immigration reform.
Lastly, this policy is both impractical and illogical. How do you expect a shopkeeper to police the administration of cigarettes? Why, for instance, should in 10 years, a 25-year-old be able to smoke whilst a 24-year-old is denied the right? The arbitrary age bracket presupposes that those under the limit will be deterred from ever having one in the first place.
To put it bluntly, this is health fascism by a government that is all too keen on utilising the nanny state to fulfil its intimidating quest to make us healthier because we are too stupid to act ourselves. Simon Clarke was right when he said ‘prohibition doesn’t work’ and that we should not treat adults ‘like children'. It was Theresa May who introduced the sugar tax in 2018 to stop people from drinking fizzy drinks. There has been no indication that this had a scintilla of an effect on obesity levels – in fact, we still have the worst rates in Europe.
Ultimately, not only is the policy morally unconscionable, frighteningly intrusive, and unnecessary (when one accounts for the gradual but substantial decline in the numbers that smoke), but it is doomed to fail in an imperfect world where individuals take the law into their hands when codes of common sense are compromised.
Image: Flickr/ Chuck Grimmett