Friday, 15 February 2008

No smoke without fire

Tucked away in the Guardian today (yes I know, I’m sorry and I am thoroughly ashamed of myself) there was an interesting piece by their social affairs editor John Carvel outlining a new proposal by ‘Health England’ to deter people from smoking.

In a report by Julian Le Grand, a professor at the LSE and former senior health adviser to King Tony it is suggested that the government introduces a ban on the sale of cigarettes to anyone who does not hold a government issued permit.

Le Grand explained "The permit might cost as little as £10, but acquiring it could be made difficult if the forms were sufficiently complex"

He went on to say "Suppose every individual who wanted to buy tobacco had to purchase a permit. And suppose further that they had to do this every year. To get a permit would involve filling out a form and supplying a photograph, as well as paying the fee. Permits would only be issued to those over 18 and evidence of age would have to be provided".


"Breaking the 'New Year's Resolution not to smoke would be costly in terms of both money and time...[This] would probably have a greater impact on poor smokers than on rich ones, hence contributing to a reduction in health inequalities."

Le Grand said that the proposal was an example of what he described as 'libertarian paternalisum' an interesting oxymoronic phrase if ever I saw one.

I've had trouble figuring out which commentary option to go with, being utterly spoiled for choice.

For example the gaping holes in the plan which the booze cruise / black market would rush to fill. The practical issues around monitoring and enforcement. The penalising of those least likely to be able to complete the ‘sufficiently complex form’ whom one suspects are more likely to be smokers (a sweeping and probably unfair generalisation I know).

But what occurred to me is where does the mind set that brings forward these proposals stop? A permission slip to buy salt? A warrant to buy whiskey? A chit to eat chocolate? Taken to an illogical conclusion you could suggest that we would have to fill in a form and stump up £10 a year to undertake any activity that is perfectly legal but which is slightly frowned upon by our masters.

I didn’t have a particular problem with the ‘smoking ban’. If smoking is your thing, you know the risks, knock yourself out but I don’t necessarily always want to come home from the pub smelling like an ashtray having passively smoked about 350 Rothmans.

But this isn’t helping people to make informed choices, it’s essentially advocating coercion. It’s having to ask the state for permission to do something that should be your choice and your risk.

It’s also more information to end up on a government database somewhere, that will get lost or stolen and for everyone whose details were held, to find that they will be bombarded with e-mails from Russian or African counterfeit cigarette manufacturers for the remainder of their sadly foreshortened lifetimes.

Well either that or having to suffer the continual prissy admonishments from nanny.

The health Orc Lord Darzi is said to be currently studying the suggestion and one would hope that even this administration with its track record of believing it ‘knows best’ would reject the proposal.

But I wouldn’t put a packet on it.


Anonymous said...

Interesting comment.

I smoke a pipe, as did my father and kinsmen (perhaps kinswomen) in generations before me. I smoke about once per week, and thoroughly enjoy this pleasant and reflective pastime.

I accept that some health risks are increased by smoking (although the risk of Alzheimer's is actually decreased, I believe - perhaps from being less likely to live long enough.) It would be silly to suggest that the risk of smoking a pipe (without inhaling the smoke) once per week was equivalent to dragging a pack of Rothmans each day.

Nevertheless, I judge that the risks of being bossed around by those charged with protecting our freedoms are worse than my humble pipe.

Phil A said...

Health fascism by any other name would surely stink as offensively as last night’s ashtray.

To force voters to buy a special permit and provide details to the state to be registered before they can be permitted to purchase something perfectly legal is true fascism.

What is chilling is this - ‘creature’, is not being as vociferously attacked as the Arch Bishop of Canterbury was.

Crushed by Ingsoc said...

Thankfully, I would say it's unworkable and it's only effect would be to boost black market trade.

I wonder why us smokers fascinate them so much?

Julie said...

Alcohol is by far the more dangerous substance but it's so much easier to victimise the smokers.

jams o donnell said...

I'm all for initiatives to get people off smoking but a permit won't ddo it. Black marketerrs will be a lot wealthier though...

Liz said...

Not relevant but just sending condolences, 4-0, oh dear.