Wednesday 18 September 2019

Extending smoking ban to cars would make children of us all

If he wishes to leave his mark, James Reilly may first want to acquire some perspective, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

STUCK on holiday recently with nothing to read but a dusty copy of the collected articles of GK Chesterton, I was soon glad there was nothing more appealing to pass the time, or I would never have discovered what great company the crusty old Edwardian essayist and novelist was.

They were all published before First World War, but time and again it was as if he was addressing a modern audience directly, whether it was on why optimism will always triumph over pessimism in politics, or why good jokes are more important and harder to write than Op Ed pieces for the Times -- or, most pertinently of all, why doctors should confine themselves to giving patients factual information, and then leave decisions on how they should actually live their lives up to the individuals themselves.

He was talking about drinking, as it happens, of which Chesterton was hugely fond; but it's not hard to guess what he would have thought of the contemporary obsession with hounding smokers, towards which our own Health Minister, Dr James Reilly, may soon be taking another giant leap forward with a possible proposal to ban smoking in cars as part of a "tobacco policy review" in his department.

Of course, all politicians want to leave their mark. Micheal Martin made such a splash with his own smoking ban in pubs when Minister for Nannying that he is now leader of Fianna Fail; though whether that is a reward or punishment, only he can say.

A smoking ban in cars wouldn't be on quite the same scale, but would arguably be more profound an expression of the desire to banish the evils of cigarette smoke, since a smoker could always retreat to his own property to pursue his pleasures if barred from the pub, whereas now even that may be taken from him.

Few will dare to quibble for fear of being accused of wanting people to get cancer -- and not just any people, but children to boot. Just wait for the TV ads, if this proposal ever makes it to law. It'll be wall to wall coughing kids, inhaling second-hand cigarette smoke pumped out by heartless smoking parents.

That's certainly how the debate has been framed so far -- as one between child health and civil liberty. Dr Reilly even said it was "highly wrong" to smoke in the presence of children. Not just inadvisable or a bit selfish, but highly wrong. Well, heaven forbid that we should keep a sense of perspective.

It is an affront to personal freedom to bar people from engaging in perfectly legal activities on their own property, whereas the child health argument is a bit more contentious.

Are doctors really saying that the 10 minutes a child spends on the school run with a smoker are more damaging than, say, walking to school through a fog of exhaust fumes? Or more harmful than the hours and weeks the children of smokers spend living under the same roof as their parents? The only logical conclusion would be to ban people from smoking in their own homes. Or perhaps smoking altogether.

If pressure group Ash had its way, it would probably insist that parents who have a crafty fag at home should have their children taken away by social workers as well. It's for their own good, after all.

Alternatively, we could all stop panicking, but then that wouldn't be half as much fun for moral highgrounders who wish to paint themselves as the champion of endangered innocents rather than control freaks with nothing better to do than tell everyone else how to live.

Meanwhile, if you're on a waiting list for an operation in a public hospital right now, fear not! The Department of Health will no doubt get round to you eventually. . .

Sunday Independent

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