Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Smoking and liberty

. Iain Dale admits to being a 'inconsistent libertarian' when it comes to the smoking ban. However, I think in all fairness to Iain he is not the only one who has a problem regarding the specific issue of smoking and liberty. As I have said before I just about came out in favour of the ban because I think there was enough evidence that the public health concerns are genuine and ultimately I was prepared to trade a little of my individual liberty in this instance.



Ultimately smokers are usually aware of the risks and it is there decision whether to take that risk or not. It is a question of whether people have the right to control and govern what they do with their own bodies. The Guardian reports that the latest smoking figures show 9 million people still smoke which is a minority but nonetheless a sizeable one. Disproportionately it is people on lower incomes that smoke the most although income is not a sole determinant;

"According to Professor Martin Jarvis, a psychologist at University College London and a leading specialist in the field of smoking and health inequality, this is not a question solely of income: every main indicator of a lower socio-economic status is likely, independent of each of the others, to predict a higher rate of smoking. If your educational level is below the average, you are more likely to smoke. If you live in rented or overcrowded accommodation, you are more likely to smoke. Ditto if you do not have access to a car, are unemployed, or on state income benefit."

So, people who think higher taxation is the answer should consider this; that you are already hitting people hard who are at the bottom of the pile. Jarvis goes onto say smoking;

"might be considered a form of self-medication: nicotine (and it is pretty much accepted that nicotine is why people smoke) is "doing something for you that you value. Many smokers think it helps them deal with stress, reduce anxiety. Of course, there's very little evidence that it actually does that." Mainly, it seems, all smoking a cigarette does is relieve the (temporary) withdrawal symptoms you get from not smoking a cigarette."

Despite this those on lower incomes are more likely to want 'value-for-money' so will inhale more nicotine. Therefore people will always make sure they can afford to do it and from anecdotal experience I can say with 100% conviction that this is correct, during a rather rough financial patch last month I smoked significantly more than I do now my situation is more stable. Taxing people out of smoking won't work and I am going to be radical and say that it is time to end the annual tax hikes that smokers have to endure.


Other measures such as the incoming pictures of mangled up throat and lungs will equally have little effect. In fact, in the Guardian article those interviewed at the end seemed to demonstrate that the measures may in some way harden peoples resolve as they feel rather crushed by government policy. It is time for a serious rethink of attitudes to this question; this maybe an unpopular view with the non-smoking majority but the phrase 'tyranny of the majority' is becoming increasingly relevant in this case. Most Lib Dem bloggers defended Chris Huhne this weekend and rightly so, despite him defending a person whose views that are rightly held to be abhorrent he recognised that liberty is to protect minorities as much as it is for the freedom of the majority.

3 comments:

david cameron's forehead said...

I was interested to know that the people who have the hardest lives smoke most. Rather than vilifying them for seeking comfort, we should ask ourselves why they are so hard pressed & how their lot can be bettered. Maybe?

Darrell G said...

I totally agree...punitive tax rises just make things worse...

Jennie said...

Nothing made me want a fag more than that bloody advert with the arteries...

* shudder *

ah, sweet comforting Consulate...