To a liberal the idea of banning anything is instinctively something that has to be scrutinised within an inch of its life. To us, the state has to have a compelling reason to interfere in someone’s private life and people should generally be free to go about their business as they choose so long as they are not infringing the rights of others.
And, so, just because doctors call for a ban on all smoking in private cars, this does not mean that one should be enacted, in much the same way as when the Police said they needed to detain terrorist suspects for 90 days, liberal voices ensured that this did not happen.
The BMA’s line is that the toxicity of the environment inside a smoky car can be 23 times that in a smoky bar. Adults can make their own minds up about whether they take that risk. I don’t think that I would regularly get into a car where someone was smoking. The state has no place to interfere in those decisions. If it did, then by the same logic, Government officials could be employed to go through your trolley at the supermarket and chuck out everything that’s bad for you. If you ban people from smoking in their own private surroundings, and cars are part of that, where will the assault on liberty end?
But what about the risks to children? Believe me, my opinion of anyone who, knowing what we know about its harmful effects, exposes children to their cigarette smoke is right down there with bankers and companies who inappropriately market infant formula in my estimation. Again, though, where do we draw the line? I wrote about this very issue earlier this year when Labour touted making smoking in cars with children a crime.
I said at the time:
There comes a point when the state has to recognise that it can’t do everything. Smoking in cars when you’re taking your kid to school when the evidence exists that this causes harm is an inconsiderate, horrible thing to do that will probably affect their future health.
There’s all sorts of things parents do, though, which store up future problems for their children. That’s why poet Philip Larkin famously said “They f*** you up, your mum and dad.” Evidence suggests that the regime orientated parenting methods such as leaving babies to cry and trying to regulate their instinctive behaviour can cause much more harm than good for future mental wellbeing. We have a situation where 1 in 4 adults will have mental health problems at some point in their lives. Do we ban these methods in the hope of improving mental health? I can imagine the outcry if a Government tried.
What I think would me more helpful, though, is an attempt by Governments and politicians to put the needs of children front and centre, to try to change the culture to make us a much more child friendly place. We don’t actually seem to like kids very much here – we ghettoise them, try to confine them to soft play areas so that adults can get on with their own socialising. Then we complain when they hang around with each other as teenagers. Maybe we should be thinking about how we can best integrate them into our lives and accept and enjoy them in every environment. Then it might not be so easy to dismiss the effects on them of lighting up in a small metal box.
I suspect the BMA’s agenda is actually to gain a ban where children is concerned by making it look like a compromise on this proposal, but I think that even this would be too far.
I’m pleased to see that the Scottish Government is being quite sensible in response to the BMA’s proposal, which I presume is down to Nicola Sturgeon. They say that:
“While we have no plans to extend the smoke-free laws to private cars, the Scottish government is conscious that private cars are now one of the main places for exposure of children to second-hand smoke.
“In developing our refreshed national tobacco control strategy for publication next year we will consider with our health improvement partners what further steps might be taken to protect children from the risks posed by second-hand smoke.”
I think Nicola should sit down with Angela Constance, the Children’s Minister, the Children’s Commissioner, representatives of children’s charities and maybe even some children themselves and work out how best to make Scotland a more child friendly culture. That to me is the most sensible way forward. Changing culture takes time, but think back to the when I was a child when nobody wore seatbelts in cars and drink driving wasn’t exactly encouraged, but it wasn’t frowned upon either.
South of the border, they should do the same sort of thing. A sort of ongoing children’s summit, if you like.
If the Government tried to ban everything that was risky, then we’d literally never go out – and staying cooped up at home isn’t exactly healthy either. There are some things you shouldn’t legislate for. Personal freedom is precious and we must guard it carefully.