Smokers have rights - but so do health workers
Bizarrely, given the fact that we now live in an era where everyone knows their rights and entitlements, we live in more intolerant times than ever before. Actually, maybe it's not so bizarre. Maybe it's a direct consequence of people being so well versed in their own rights.
Maybe we have just reached an unfortunate stage in our social evolution where some of us are happy to trample over other people's personal freedoms to ensure that their own sense of entitlement is not hindered or threatened in any way.
A perfect example of this prissy, unpleasant intolerance is our attitude towards smoking and, increasingly, smokers themselves. In fact, smokers are the last minority it's acceptable to despise and nowhere is that open contempt more obvious than in the various flatulent outbursts from the HSE.
Whether it's their deranged policy of banning smoking from hospital grounds, which simply leads to patients in dressing gowns standing in the rain as they grab a quick fag, or their various illogical swipes at e-cigarettes, it's clear that smoking may not be the biggest problem the HSE faces, but it's certainly its most pressing obsession.
Now they have issued yet another edict dictating when people can smoke in their own homes and... I actually agree with it.
I never thought I'd agree with anything that wasteful, inefficient body has to say, but even the stopped clock occasionally gets it right. Now, before irate smokers cough up a lung in disgust at someone who has long defended smokers apparently becoming a turncoat, allow me to clarify.
According to the HSE, health care workers such as nurses, doctors, social workers or therapists who make home visits can expect to 'work in a smoke-free environment' and they ask that patients refrain from smoking for at least an hour before the scheduled visit.
Further, they also warn that: "Clients should be made aware that the visiting staff member may leave if they do not comply with this policy."
Of course, the initial reaction from many observers was one of shock and fury - now the HSE wants to ban us from smoking in our own home! It's Nanny gone mad! They would make criminals of us all!
Actually, they don't want to do that. Sure, they might like that idea further down the line but that isn't the issue at hand on this occasion. In fact, the issue at hand is something we hear very little of in these apparently enlightened times - basic manners.
Smokers' rights are important because they are part and parcel of the individual's right to live their life as they see fit. But that concept - about as close to libertarianism as you're ever going to get in this country - is only the first half of the equation, and too many people are missing the second, crucial half of that equation. Because you only have the right to live your life as you see fit as long as you're not unduly bothering someone else.
So, if a health care professional arrives at your door and asks you to stub it out, why would you complain and why would you refuse? If you smoke, you expect some basic consideration from non-smokers but that's a two-way street which is why basic courtesy is the best weapon, not rules and regulations.
That's why even other smokers find it irritating to see groups of lads puffing away beside a pub door, oblivious to the fact that they're blowing smoke into the face of anyone else who wants to enter the premises. It's a small thing, as most courtesies always are, but they are the knots that hold a healthy society together - and those knots are becoming frayed.
Similarly, you don't have to be a complete health fascist to do a double take any time you see a heavily pregnant woman puffing away - she undoubtedly has the right to do so if she wishes, but you can also make a reasonable argument that she has an equal responsibility not to smoke. That's simple common sense.
The usual defence of smoking is that the State has no right to tell you what to do.
That's undoubtedly true, but only up to a point. Because when you're benefiting from the State, in this case by the attendance of visiting health care workers, it's not unreasonable for them to expect you to put the fags away while they are doing their job.
Their job, after all, is you, and whether they object because they are worried for their own health or, more likely, because they just don't like the smell, they are guests in your house and should be treated as such.
Anyway, even if you do have to stay off the fags for an hour or so, just think how great that first puff will taste when they leave.