Thursday 22 August 2019

Latest smoking proposals are about control, not health

Out of touch: The smoking ban could be extended to outside pubs
Out of touch: The smoking ban could be extended to outside pubs
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

There used to be a well-worn phrase that all political careers end in failure. But not in Ireland, oh no.

In fact, in Ireland, political failure just means you get sent to the Seanad.

Like those parachute payments in the Premier League which give the relegated clubs bundles of cash to help them cope, we also like to throw our rejected politicians a bone to soften the blow of being relegated from their seat.

Which, in James Reilly's case, means allowing him prowl the corridors of power like a baleful Fintan Stack.

Reilly was a dismal Minister for Health, although that's not saying much. They all are.

He was also a dismal Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and when his constituency turfed him out in the 2016 General Election, most of us thought that was the last we had seen of him.

But zealots never rest and his latest suggestion, which has been accepted at cabinet level, is to ban people from smoking in outside areas of pubs of restaurants.

In this never-ending desire to protect people from themselves - when the people actually need protecting from politicians - he said that it is "principally about food", before adding for good measure that: "No conversation can begin about tobacco without remembering that 6,000 men and women die every year."

So is it principally about food, or is it about remembering the fallen smokers?

Oh wait, there's more: "We don't want children thinking this is normal behaviour."

So it's 'principally' about food. But it's also about remembering the fallen smokers. And it's also about not giving a bad example to the precious little kiddies.

So he's concerned about the quality of your dinner and he also wants to raise your kids for you, and for good measure, to unilaterally decide what other people's children should be 'exposed' to.

And they say men can't multitask?

Why the latest barrage of attacks on smokers?

Well, he was amazed to discover that people congregate outside bars and restaurants to enjoy a collective smoke. This, he said, was "an unintended consequence" of the smoking ban indoors.

People often accuse politicians of being out of touch, but this is one of the greatest examples yet. Where did the anti-smoking brigade think smokers were going to go when they went out for a drink? Leaving aside the number of pubs which were forced to close in the wake of the ban (were job losses and foreclosures an "unintended consequence" as well?) anyone with even a basic grasp of human nature could have told the prohibitionists that this was exactly what would happen.

The only reason I am reluctant to call Reilly and his ilk a bunch of single-issue fanatics is because he'd probably thank me for the compliment - after all, he has previously described tobacco companies as 'evil' and pompously declared 'war' on smoking.

In true tinpot-tyrant fashion, they are determined to make Ireland 'smoke free' by 2025 - an idea that is ludicrous, totalitarian and, like all their plans, unworkable.

The problem with these ideas is that they want to completely remove the individual autonomy of grown adults and private businesses and concentrate all such decisions in the hands of the State.

If a private bar or restaurant wants to accommodate smokers in their outside areas, that is an issue between the patrons and the management. If people are staying away from their place because of smoking, they won't allow it.

That is entirely their call to make.

You see, the market always works things out far better than any politician, even a colossus like James Reilly, ever could.

This is an issue which goes far beyond the individual's right to smoke (for the record, I hate people smoking while others are eating).

This is about a politician seeing something he doesn't like - say, children being exposed to the shocking sight of someone having a fag - and deciding he wants to ban it.

It's a ban which will ultimately shut smoking areas and the fact that Simon Harris couldn't rule out the ban being extended to open air gigs is a clear sign that they're next on the list.

Not content with that, Wednesday even saw Reilly demand that supermarkets like Tesco and SuperValu actually stop selling cigarettes because they "should be providers of nourishment and nutritional goods".

These people don't even speak like the rest of us, although I do like the idea of Reilly stalking the aisles of his local Tesco and freaking out whenever he sees a product that is insufficiently "nourishing and nutritional". This isn't about health, no more than the sugar tax is about health - this week's admission that the funds raised would go into the general exchequer rather than be ring fenced is proof of that.

Fundamentally, this is about the contempt the powers-that-be (or the powers-that-were, in the former Minister's case) have for the rest of us.

It shows their inherent disdain for individual choices and displays a sinister mindset which would see them dictate how the rest of us live our lives.

I bet the illegal cigarette hawkers love the idea of banning smokes from supermarkets - there's another 'unintended consequence' for ye, James...

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