Should smoking in public be banned? - One Less Robot
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Should smoking in public be banned?

Should smoking in public be banned?

A war through correspondence has been developing in the letter pages of this magazine over the past three issues. The battle lines have been firmly drawn, and the trenches dug; the smokers and the non-smokers are at each others throats.

An issue that divides can be no more basic than the quality of the air that we breath. It is so sacrosanct to those who do not smoke as to be nearly incomprehensible to the smoker.

To the smoker their habit is most definitely a very social thing, to be shared with friends over a cup of tea. To the non-smoker, billowing cigarette smoke is an invasion of their privacy, and of course they see the person with the fag in their hand as a selfish bastard, caring only about themselves. Which is true, the first person an addict thinks of when the craving to satisfy their addiction come upon them is – themselves.

The trend throughout Europe and the States is toward a complete and total ban on smoking in public places, and there is no guarantee that the restrictions will end there.

Here in Ireland, the areas where smoking is allowed are being severely restricted. Or at least that’s what the law would have you think. In reality, the case is that how rigidly the laws are enforced depends on the proprietors.

It is true that many public areas are divided into smoking and non-smoking, but the dividing line is usually imaginary, and smoke rarely pays any attention it, crossing at will.

Considered discussion usually breaks down when a smoker and a non-smoker try to debate the pros and cons of clean air and personal freedoms. The non-smoker wants clean air, the smoker wants to have a cigarette, and the quality of the air is not uppermost in their minds.

So what arrangement can we come to that would satisfy both parties. The simplest solution that still allows smoking in public places is to completely segregate smokers into closed off rooms. You might ask why put the smoker in the poky little room? The answer is simple: the smoker produces smoke, which has to be contained, plus the whole concept of clean air is compromised if the non-smokers have to trawl through a dense fog of cigarette smoke in order to get to their designated area.

The fact that most premises are structurally unable to provide completely separate areas, and it seems unlikely that whichever group was targeted for the segregation would be pleased to be treated as second-class citizens.

The final decision on whether or not cigarettes are to become illegal, available only from your local dealer, lies with the Government, and the EU. Most of the health guidelines and regulations which limit smoking in public places are the result of directives issued at EU level. The Government is bound by the Charter of Rome to enforce EU directives unless it receives a special dispensation due to special circumstances.

This means that the Government acts in a somewhat schizophrenic manner when it comes to policy on smoking. On the one hand the tariffs and taxes on cigarettes netted the Exchequer a whopping £650 million this year, which translates to £2.19 out of every  £2.88 for a pack of 20 cigarettes going to the Government. This is a substantial chunk of the total Exchequer tax income, around   5 %.

Every year another few pence is added to the cost of a pack of smokes. This isn’t really an attempt by the Government to make it too expensive for people to smoke, but a very dependable form of income.

The flip side of the coin is that smoking is becoming more and more socially unacceptable, and the Government is forced to legislate for both EU directives on health and safety, and also heed the ever-increasing number of Irish people who want stricter controls.

The number of people smoking has plummeted from  40 % in 1970 to the present figure of 28 %. this has been attributed to both the price increase in the price of cigarettes and a greater awareness of health issues. The demographic has also changed, with a greater percentage of girls taking up the habit than previously, and the number of boys dropping.

The question which frames this article has a corollary, and that is: Should proscribed drugs, such as Cocaine, Marijuana, E, Cannabis, etc., be legalised? There are those who think it should. There are certainly arguments which claim that purity, quality and price would better be assured by Government control, and the crime element so intricately associated with drugs would be eliminated.

Also, the amount of money Governments would make out of legalisation of these drugs would be stupendous. Monies which are currently tied up in Customs patrols and anti-drug trafficking policing could be freed and utilised in more productive ways. Or so it would seem. It is true that the Government would make huge amounts of money, but it would be forced to strengthen Customs and anti-drug trafficking, in order to protect its market from smugglers offering cut-price product. There is also the consideration that anarchy would be the inevitable outcome of the legalisation of currently proscribed drugs. The availability of the so-called soft drugs, alcohol and cigarettes have shown that a substantial number of the populace are susceptible to addiction. The legalisation of the ‘recreational drugs’ is a moot point as they are so readily available as to render any further freedom of supply unnecessary.

The fact is that the addict is not a productive member of society, and there comes a point when the great number of addicted people providing a huge income for the Government can no longer support their habit, and the bubble collapses.

A drug addict functions only on one level, beyond even that of self-preservation, and that is self-gratification. That does not change whether their drug of choice is obtained illicitly or legally.

There seems to be a vision of a benign arrangement whereby every junkie receives their fix thrice-daily at their local Addict Service Center, all as part of their Unemployment benefits. This is such an unlikely Utopia as to be rather pathetic. If that were so, the Health Boards would be dishing out cigarettes and Whisky on the Medical Card.

So perhaps the legalisation of these proscribed drugs is not such a good idea, what then of the banning of Tobacco? Should it merely be removed to the privacy of the smokers own home, or made an illegal substance altogether? Or should all restrictions previously imposed be rescinded immediately?

Whatever your personal opinion, increasingly the EU dictates Europe-wide health and safety policy, and currently the trend is to remove smoking from public areas, all public areas. The provision of smoking and non-smoking areas is merely a stop-gap measure, and a generally unsatisfactory one for everyone concerned. Only time will tell if we will see the Thought Police searching the streets for deviant citizens thinking about having a cigarette. Even thinking about having a smoke could become a crime. Wait and see…

(This article was written in 2003. Smoking in enclosed public places has now been banned in Ireland, and many other countries in Europe)

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