There are occasions when right and wrong are easy to define: black and white. Smoking is bad, isn’t it? Well yes, it is – and I don’t recommend it to anyone – but we need to be careful. Just because smoking is bad, it doesn’t necessarily follow that smokers are bad. Current figures suggest that around 25% of us still light up regularly – about 15 million British citizens. They are clearly not all bad people! So please, fellow liberals, explain to me why a blanket ban on smoking is so popular in our party? The vast majority of our MPs voted in favour of the ‘total ban’, without even opt-outs for private clubs – and Lib Dem bloggers have been by and large complicit in the vilification of the smoker too.
‘What about passive smoking?’, I hear you say. Fair point: I fully support the view that non-smokers should be protected from passive smoke, and should have the right to spend their lives in smoke-free air. But it is not necessary to have a blanket ban to achieve this (separate areas, air scrubbers etc, etc). It is, however, easier and simpler to write and enforce the legislation for a blanket ban. But just because a law is easy to enforce, it doesn’t automatically make it a good law.
J S Mill bequeathed us this guidance:
The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.
The truth is that 25% of us have just lost a bit more freedom to the authoritarian, nanny state tendency – and the only mainstream liberal political party in this country has been complicit.