From last Saturday's Telegraph:
Manjib, Syria, the men are cutting their beards. The women are smoking cigarettes and uncovering their faces. Newly liberated from the rule of Isil, they’re expressing the most basic freedom a human can possess: control over their own bodies. These are the freedoms the West holds dear. This is what we stand for: the freedom of each person to make decisions for themselves ...
The article, by Juliet Samuel, went on to address the decision to ban the use of the burkini - a head to foot swimming costume worn mostly by Muslim women - on the beaches of Cannes and another resort in France, Villeneuve-Loubet.
According to Samuel (and I couldn't agree more), "The real enemies of freedom are not the burkini-wearers but the politicians who want to ban them."
But let's address her initial point:
The women are smoking cigarettes ... Newly liberated from the rule of Isil, they’re expressing the most basic freedom a human can possess: control over their own bodies. These are the freedoms the West holds dear.
If only that were true. The West may not kill or torture people for smoking (not yet, anyway!) but the suggestion it's a freedom "the West holds dear" is no longer true, sadly.
I'm not suggesting governments should actively encourage habits that are potentially harmful but if it's legal the state's role in a free society is to educate then allow people to make our own informed choices without being punished for making choices the state doesn't approve of.
Instead, led by America, Australia, Canada, the UK and Ireland (spot the connection?), governments and local authorities in the West have spent the past two decades banning or severely restricting smoking in a variety of public places.
Smoking in enclosed public places is now prohibited in several Western countries and there is a growing move towards outdoor smoking bans.
Smokers have been taxed to the hilt, far in excess of what it allegedly costs the state to treat smoking-related diseases.
In some countries the product has been hidden behind shutters and sliding doors while packs and pouches are emblazoned with gory health warnings designed to shock and repulse.
Simultaneously the public has been encouraged to regard smoking as a dirty or disgusting habit ("If you smoke, you stink" according to one publicly-funded campaign).
Does that sound like a freedom "the West holds dear"?
At the heart of these initiatives is a fundamental desire to denormalise a legal product and stigmatise the consumer. Worse, anti-smoking campaigns are often driven by a deliberate policy of hate and fear.
How has the public responded? Well, although relatively few people are actively anti-smoking (and most of them are employed by the state or third sector 'charities'), it's also true that the number of people and organisations committed to defending smokers is painfully small.
Long ago I wrote to Liberty, on behalf of Forest, inviting them to condemn discrimination against smokers. I received a polite brush-off, the gist of which was "in the overall scheme of things smokers' rights are simply not that important".
I wasn't surprised. Many people profess to be civil libertarians or socially liberal but only a handful speak up for smokers. Ditto economic liberals despite strong arguments for letting the market decide
I know this because Forest monitors all these groups across a range of platforms (including social media) and the number of self-proclaimed liberals who defend smoking and oppose anti-smoking legislation is depressingly small, believe me.
Likewise I've lost count of the number of ex-smoking vapers who protest they're not anti-smoking yet remain mute when smoking is under the cosh. When challenged they respond, "It's not our battle." Alternatively they recycle any anti-smoking nonsense that furthers their own cause.
Of course the careers of many pro-vaping advocates were built on the war on tobacco so their refusal to stand up for smokers is no surprise. As far as they're concerned smokers are collateral damage in the unrelenting march towards a brave new smoke free world.
(It makes me laugh when I see some of them lauded as heroes of the vaping movement. Every smoking ban that includes the use of e-cigarettes is directly attributable to the anti-smoking policies those very same people actively campaigned for and still endorse.)
For me defending smoking (and smokers) is the litmus test of a genuinely liberal mind. It scores points on so many levels I hardly know where to start.
The most important perhaps is that genuine liberals are prepared to defend activities they themselves don't engage in and may even disapprove of.
Defending smoking means challenging the current orthodoxy that the world would be a better place without it.
If you're a smoker it also means accepting personal responsibility for your decision to smoke and not using the 'victim' or addiction card.
For example, one of the things that annoys me most about some ex-smoking vapers is the claim, repeated ad nauseum, that restrictions on vaping or vaping products will "force" them back to smoking.
I heard it again this week in Australia where vapers were protesting against regulations banning the sale of e-cigarettes containing nicotine. It's an absurd policy but, for heaven's sake, if you don't want to smoke, don't smoke. No-one's forcing you light up. Get a grip.
Bleating that restrictions on e-cigarettes will "force" you back to smoking plays into the hands of those who want to portray smokers (and vapers) as pathetic, weak-willed addicts desperate for their next fix - unless government steps in to 'save' them.
A few years ago I was interviewed for a feature in the Independent, Is smoking still defensible?. Nick Duerden, a freelance journalist, gave us a decent hearing, I thought.
As well as Forest Nick wanted to speak to some of our supporters so I put him in touch with David Hockney, Joe Jackson and Ronald (now Sir Ronald) Harwood.
All three were quoted but I would have struggled to name many more with a similar public profile because when it comes to defending smoking most people don't want to know. Even smokers have been cowed into submission.
So I'll ask this. Who do you identify with - the women in Manjib, Syria, celebrating the freedom to smoke, or public health campaigners who want to deny you that freedom in the name of ... what, exactly?
I don't doubt that some people are addicted to smoking and want to quit. I'm equally convinced however that as an expression of individual freedom smoking is hard to beat.
I also think the world would be a poorer, less diverse place without smoking but, hey, I'm just a tobacco industry stooge with no mind of my own.
And on that bombshell I will leave you for a week or so.
Tonight I'm having dinner aboard the Queen Victoria in the port of Venice. At ten o'clock local time we'll set sail for Croatia with subsequent stops including Crete, Albania (a late replacement for Turkey!) and Greece.
Do post a comment or two while I'm away. Oh, and feel free to go off topic. The good news is, I won't be here to stop you!