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More thoughts on smoking and the nanny state

Further to my previous post, here are more of my comments from last week’s interview on BBC Radio Guernsey.

On smoking in the open air

There is no research that says that smoking in the open-air poses any risk to any non-smoker. You would have to be in very close proximity to a smoker and be a very serious asthmatic for that to have any effect whatsoever and asthma is rather an interesting one because over the last 30, 40 years, while smoking rates have more than halved, cases of asthma have actually tripled. So clearly there is something else going on there, but in terms of cancer there is not a shred of evidence that exposure to somebody smoking outdoors is going to have any impact on you whatsoever. I don’t want to go over old arguments but even passive smoking indoors, there's been a lot of research over many many years, and even there the evidence of long-term harm is pretty insubstantial.

I do accept that smoking indoors can be unpleasant for a lot of people and I totally accept that smoking should be restricted in indoor public places. I would still argue very strongly that there should be indoor public smoking rooms in pubs. You were speaking to Peter Lee [a Guernsey publican]. I remember seeing Peter many years ago and I don't see there is any reason why we shouldn't have smoking rooms indoors. And of course this is one of the problems. Because smoking is now banned everywhere indoors it has forced people go outside and so you get people complaining [about] people hanging around outside pubs and clubs or somebody who wants to smoke outside the airport or outside the harbour and it does seem rather petty to ban smoking in designated smoking areas outside the harbour or even outside the airport.

We know that flying for example can be quite stressful for a lot of people. I have only been to Guernsey airport once. Obviously it is quite a small airport so you are probably not there for hours on end [like] you might be at larger airports like Heathrow and so on, but to say you can't smoke even in a designated smoking area takes the whole war on tobacco too far. It's nothing to do with public health because if you smoke it’s a private health matter. It’s not a public health matter if you're smoking outdoors and I just think that politicians and anti-smoking campaigners need to get a grip. There are far more important things in life than banning people from smoking in the open-air.

On the nanny state

I am reluctant to use that term these days because it’s been overused. I personally would use the term bully state because I think we've gone beyond nannyism. Nannyism is quite benign. It's trying to help people make the right choices but the point is, in recent years, particularly with tobacco and smoking, we have had the bully state because it is no longer [about] nudging people to change their habits, it’s about forcing them to quit smoking and I think often that's quite counterproductive because I think a lot of people don't like being told how to behave and what you're seeing increasingly now is some smokers reaching for their fags in defiance because we are now down to, if you like, the core smokers which is about 15 to 16 per cent of the population, and I think it’s going to be very difficult - without bringing in very authoritarian practices - to actually push the smoking rates down into single figures because there are, as I said before, a considerable number of people who smoke because they enjoy it. They may admit that they're addicted to it [but] we've done research which shows that, of what we call confirmed smokers, over half will say, yes, I'm addicted to smoking but I don't care because the pleasure outweighs the thought that they are addicted, and I say we have to respect people who choose to consume a legal product. If you want to go down the line of banning the product, like alcohol in United States, well that’s a different matter, but as I say that won't work. You will simply drive it underground and people will continue to smoke.

On smoking on hospital grounds

I understand that hospitals don't want to be seen to encourage it, but the reality is that people get comfort from smoking and if you are in hospital, particularly if you are elderly, you have gone in to hospital for a completely non-smoking related reason, you might be having a hip replacement, for example, you might be in hospital for six, seven, eight weeks. If you're told you can't go out and have a smoke then I think that’s actually quite cruel. We've seen situations where hospitals ban smoking on hospital grounds and elderly people, people who might be attached to a drip, [are] wheeled off site perhaps a quarter of a mile away where they sit or stand on a busy main road with all these diesel buses and cars going past them. This is inhumane. So while I understand why hospitals don't want to be seen to encourage smoking I think it’s a question again of being pragmatic and actually, you know, showing a bit of humanity to people who are in a stressful situation.

We’ve even had examples where staff are being threatened with disciplinary action, (a) if they're caught smoking in their uniform even though they might be off the premises, or (b) if they had the temerity to help a patient who wants to smoke, if they have the temerity to help a patient off site so they can light up. Those people might have worked for the NHS for 20, 30 years looking after people, caring for people, and they have been threatened with disciplinary action and potentially the sack for doing that and I think that’s utterly outrageous.

On countries that are getting it right

I think Germany is quite a good example of a nation, possibly for historical reasons, that does not want to appear to be too oppressive in it's lifestyle regulations. In Germany of course they actually have smoking lounges in airports. They are well ventilated, they are not smoky because they've got the latest state of the art ventilation, and that seems to be a very good compromise. Also in Germany, not in every state but in some states, and in Berlin for example, you'll still find some bars where you're allowed to smoke and again that seems to me a reasonable compromise. We are not asking for people to be able to light up whenever or wherever they want. Those days are gone and we wouldn’t expect a return to that, but we don't see why you should not be allowed to have smoking rooms in bars if the owner decided that it was a good thing for his business. What you will actually find is that very few bars and restaurants would allow smoking but at least there will be some element of choice. At the moment I think Germany is quite a good example of a country that gets the balance right.

To read the full interview click here.

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Reader Comments (2)

Excellent interview. Just to clarify re. Berlin, it's not just some bars that allow smoking, it's most of them. If they're over a certain size, they have to have separate rooms - many do, but doors might stay open as people wander in and out with lit cigarettes, because no one cares. Restaurants are nonsmoking but they too are allowed a smoking room, and some will let you eat in the smoking room if you want. At the same time, there are loads of cafe/bar establishments where you can have a coffee, or a meal, or just a beer, and these are pretty much all nonsmoking, so if you're a smoke-hater it's easy to find somewhere. There is a choice, and everyone's fine with it except a handful of antismoking zealots who are often American ex-pats.

You're quite correct about German distaste for the Nanny State. The average German thinks that what he does in his personal free time is nothing to do with the government, and government tends to respect this. This is quite ingrained, as well as a reaction against the heavy-handedness of not only the Nazi regime but the East German communist one (though even these did not ban smoking in the pub). Unfortunately there is now a more comprehensive (and unpopular) ban in some parts the country (e.g. Bavaria), but modern Germany is still much more free and relaxed than Britain. And yet when I tell this to people in England, they don't believe me!

Incidentally, Austria is even more smoking-friendly. Twice in Vienna I saw a separate, smaller room behind a glass wall, and assumed it was a smoking room. In fact it was for the nonsmokers . . .

Sunday, September 9, 2018 at 12:35 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Jackson

It must be time for another of your Smokers’ Guides, Joe. Your last Smokers’ Guide to Europe was published here in 2008!

Sunday, September 9, 2018 at 15:13 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

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