I’ve generally tried to stay out of the tobacco debate, largely because I’m not a smoker and don’t feel strongly about smoking as such. But the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces has already impacted on pubs and has been one of the factors that have contributed to pubs closing. The smoking ban has now been extended from enclosed public spaces to banning smoking in enclosed private spaces – cars, when children are present. My belief is that the longer-term goal of ‘public health’ is to ban smoking in the home when children are present, stopping-off along the way to test the water and condition public opinion to extending smoking bans more widely.
It seems another stopping-off point is smoking bans in open public spaces – and this is already proposed for beaches in Brighton and for city squares in Bristol. This is the kind of petty-Gauleiter activity you get when ‘public health’ is given to rinky-dink local government to play with. The latest public health sock puppet to jump on this particular bandwagon is the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH). They are calling for the smoking ban to be extended to beer gardens, al fresco eating areas of restaurants, parks and outside school gates. RSPH go on to say smoking should be seen as “abnormal” and people needing a “fix of nicotine” should use e-cigarettes.
According to the BBC, Shirley Cramer, RSPH’s chief executive, said: “Children are hugely receptive to the behaviour of the adults around them. The sight therefore of individuals smoking at prominent locations risks teaching them that smoking is a normal and safe habit.
“We believe that banning smoking in these locations via an exclusion zone could further de-normalise smoking, ensuring that it is seen as an abnormal activity and potentially, prevent children and young people from beginning in the future.”
The end-game here is to ban smoking at home – what could be a more prominent place in which to influence children than the home? But with 22% of men and 19% of women smoking regularly it is not for government to decide what is or is not “normal”, and then to threaten people with fines or imprisonment if they depart from the norm by breaking a legally enforceable ban – particularly one introduced at the insistence of a bunch of obsessive cranks who seek to write moral prescriptions for everyone else. There is no longer any pretence that such banning measures are there to protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke - that was always just an excuse. The goal is “de-normalisation” as a kind of cultural form of prohibition.
Now where have I heard all this before? Well, think of the health lobby’s proposals on banning alcohol advertising. This is part of their strategy for de-normalising the drinking of beverage alcohol. Where smoking policy goes, alcohol policy is sure to follow. Smokers have been driven outside the pub, now they are being told that if they need a “nicotine fix” it must be from an e-cigarette. I’m beginning to think of smokers as a persecuted minority! But this measure can only discourage smokers from going to pubs.
One of the techniques that healthists use to de-normalise alcohol is to take the drinking of it completely out of its social and cultural context and say it is “just another drug”. In the United States we have seen the development of a powdered form of alcohol – a product called “Palcohol”. The US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau have approved this product, which, when mixed with 6 fluid ounces of water produces the same alcohol content as a standard mixed drink. The powders come in various flavours – vodka, rum and powderita – a margarita version.
I cannot imagine a worse development for our sector, or one that is more calculated to facilitate the portrayal of alcohol as just another drug. If you thought that healthists had a field day with “alcopops” wait until powdered alcohol hits the shops. Once we separate ethyl alcohol from beverage alcohol – from the tradition of craft and flavour, and the use of natural ingredients – then those of us who defend the drinking of beverage alcohol as a lawful and socially acceptable activity are placed in an untenable position.
Actually, when I said I can’t imagine a worse development for our sector than powdered alcohol - I take that back! We have also seen the development of alcohol vaping – inhale it as a vapour and it goes straight from the lungs to the brain and people get very drunk, very quickly. Currently the Home Office is consulting on whether powdered alcohol at least should be brought under the licensing regime. This type of product is already available online. I find myself in the slightly uncomfortable position of favouring a ban. Oh dear!