Cigar in handHe has it right, in part, and for a Guardian columnist that’s quite a feat. Neil Clark believes the smoking ban implemented in the United Kingdom is wrong, because (1) it’s having a negative effect on the economy, and (2) it’s having a negative effect on social life across the country. I agree, though I’d say Neil has missed the very most important reason the smoking ban is wrong: (3) it infringes on civil liberties including property rights.

The ban was actually four separate acts of legislation in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, of which Scotland was first. I wrote an article in July last year after visiting the Scottish Parliament for the first time, where it became quickly apparent to me why Scotland was first to impose a ban on smoking. Read it HERE.

These bans were enacted for ‘health reasons’, of course. Exposure to secondhand smoke “increases the risk of non-smokers developing vascular and heart diseases, lung cancer and respiratory disease”, apparently, and that’s why it is now illegal to smoke on the premises of all businesses in the UK, including pubs, clubs, restaurants and bars. Big Brother has spoken. As Neil Clark points out:

“Instead of attempting to reach a compromise, the government instead opted for an all-encompassing ban more in line with Nazi Germany (which, unsurprisingly, was the first country in the world to introduce restrictions on smoking in public) than with a supposedly liberal, democratic European nation.”

Agree. So let’s take a look at the three indictments above (two Clark’s, one mine) on the smoking ban, which is a product of what Clark calls “New Labour’s particularly noxious brand of killjoy illiberalism”:

(1) It’s having a negative effect on the economy.

Why doesn’t this surprise me? Government interferes, for the ‘good’ of the people, and the result is that the lifeline of the people – their economy – suffers. Yet they said this wouldn’t happen. In response to the question “Will the smoke-free legislation affect my business?”, the website set up to inform the public on the ban at the time claimed: “Evidence indicates that the economic outcome will be either neutral or positive.” The “evidence” cited in that answer was a report published in March 2004 by the Irish Office of Tobacco Control. The report “concluded that the workplace smoking ban would be unlikely to have an adverse economic effect on the hospitality business and may, in fact, have a positive effect.” But, as Clark points out today:

“For the pub and entertainment business the ban, which followed similar ones in Scotland and Wales, has proved a disaster. Last week, Enterprise Inns, the UK’s second-largest pub group, warned of “closures across the industry”. It has put 96 of its 2,700 pubs up for sale.

“And in Wales, where a ban on smoking was introduced in April, pubs have lost an estimated 20% of their trade.

“Bingo halls and working men’s clubs are also feeling the pinch. In Scotland, more than 20 bingo halls have already closed since the ban was introduced; scores more are under threat of closure across Britain. Mick McGlasham, an official with the Club and Institute Union (CIU), which runs 228 working men’s clubs, predicts the ban will be “the last straw” that forces clubs to close.”

So isn’t it merely the case that the government is a moralistic bully, willing to screw with the livelihoods of the citizens who elected it, ‘for their own good’, and further willing to blow the necessary amount of smoke up their asses in response to their quest for assurances that it won’t have the effects they fear, in order to ensure compliance?

It may be worthwhile quoting C.S. Lewis here, too: “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

(2) It’s having a negative effect on social life across the country.

I haven’t socialised at a British pub in a great many years, so I have no firsthand experience of this. But as Clark points out in his article today:

“Britain’s estimated 12 million smokers have a choice: they go out to a pub or club and then have to stand outside, like social outcasts, on a cold and often wet pavement every time they fancy a smoke; or they simply stay at home. Unsurprisingly, millions are opting for the latter.

“It’s hard to escape the conclusion of Jemma Freeman, the managing director of cigar importers Hunters and Frankau and a keen cigar smoker herself, that the government does not really want us to meet in public places any more, and would much rather we all stayed home and vegetated in front of the television instead.”

Yup, perhaps it is easier to control the masses thus. Except that it isn’t working, is it? Instead you have a nation of unhappy, binge-drinking adults and glue-sniffing, hooded youths who prefer the street corner to either home or social venue. This isn’t due to the smoking ban, of course. But the smoking ban is one manifestation of the kind of general policy that is responsible for the Britain of today: the nannying, police state – the Britain of Big Government and High Taxes – and the Britain of the insignificant individual. And that brings me to the most important reason the smoking ban is, simply, wrong.

(3) It infringes on civil liberties including property rights.

What has the ban to do with property? Everything. The ban would not be controversial if it banned smoking on the government’s own premises (police stations, court houses, Inland Revenue headquarters, city halls), as would be its right. The ban would not be as controversial even if it banned smoking in truly ‘public’ places (on busy pedestrian streets or public parks, for example). But businesses owned by private citizens – the pubs, clubs, restaurants and bars – are not public places, because they are not owned publicly. They are someone’s private property, over which the government has no justifiable jurisdiction. Stephen Graham wrote about this in June 2005:

“The owner of the pub or restaurant in question should decide, just like the owner of a house decides, whether his private property is smoking or non-smoking, and people can then decide whether they want to visit or not. Sound radical? It’s called individual choice and responsibility. It probably sounds like a new idea to those of you who are reading this blog from Planet Control-Freak. But the concept runs like this: If people don’t like to be in a smoky environment then they don’t have to go to a smokers house or to a smoke-friendly restaurant. Instead, non-smoking customers continue to go to such places and by so doing they consent to sitting in a smoky environment, as do the members of staff who work there. When you apply to work in a pub or a bar you know exactly the type of environment that is. You have a choice, you make the choice and you live with the consequences of that choice.”

It’s true that many people won’t ‘get’ this argument at all, particularly if they’ve lived under such oppressive government collectivism for any length of time, or if their general attitude toward dealing with their fellow citizens is that which would make illegal everything that they don’t particularly enjoy themselves. There is an idea that has been around a long time, and is responsible singlehandedly for perhaps most of our trouble as a species, and that is the idea that everyone must live by the same values. Whether those values have been religious, political, social, cultural, ethical; many people find it hard to evolve beyond this collectivist concept, a concept which has never worked in any era of human history, and isn’t working in this one either. Those who have evolved beyond collectivism are those opposing this ban. And their ranks are growing; as Clark suggests:

“It’s good to report, though, that the fightback against the ban has started. A new group that aims to campaign for exemptions from the ban for pubs, clubs and bars is being formed. Expect to hear a lot more about it in the new year.”

The UK isn’t alone, of course, in implementing or trying to implement smoking bans of this nature. It’s a trend all over the United States, Europe and elsewhere. To download the excellent, 7-page in-depth report, The Case Against Smoking Bans by the Cato Institute, click here (printable).