Your McNanny State controls more than just smoking

Your McNanny State controls more than just smoking

by Brian Monteith
article from Thursday 5, July, 2018

WHETHER you are a smoker or not everyone should be concerned about the latest tobacco control action plan that proposes a ban on smoking in council houses, released recently by the Scottish Government.

Most people don’t smoke, for smoking rates have been on a downward trend for forty years. Not because of all the bans or restrictions – they have had no measureable impact on accelerating or reducing the falling rate – but because people have chosen not to smoke themselves. Indeed in Scotland the smoking rate went up immediately after the ban in public places. 

The action plan is important because the same methods of regulating and banning the packaging, advertising, opportunities for consumption and raising taxes become the template to control alcohol, energy drinks, salt sugar, fats and carbohydrates a few years later.

Yet the evidence shows bans and regulations do not meet the claims made of them. The trend improvement in heart attacks cannot be attributed to smoking bans while lung cancer or asthma outcomes are either no better or even worse. Likewise Scotland’s drink drive ban saw no improvement in alcohol related accidents, casualties or deaths and in some cases the statistics worsened.

Unfortunately politicians love social interventions because it allows them to grab headlines that show they care, they can introduce them because the targets are always someone else or minorities enjoying guilty pleasures of drinking alcohol, eating and smoking. 

The difficulty the public faces is who will speak out against these social interventions that give greater centralised control to the state and its faceless commissars?  

It was once the natural territory of liberals but they abandoned that tradition fifty years ago when Jo Grimond gave up leadership of the old Liberal Party. Defence of individual liberty has been championed by the Conservatives but Heath brought in the compulsory motorcycle helmet (1973), Thatcher brought in the compulsory seat belt (1983) and Major put them in the back seat (1991). More recently David Cameron introduced tobacco display bans (2012) and plain ugly packaging (2015) for packets that cannot be fewer that twenty smokes – and wanted to adopt minimum unit pricing of alcohol.

As for the Scottish Conservatives their unpredictable approach is determined by who is leader or carries the relevant brief being legislated on. The Named Person policy is steadfastly opposed, but paternalist health interventionists less so.

So whether you are a smoker or not the tobacco control plan matters, but who will oppose it at Holyrood? Is there anyone who will stand up and say tenants should be able to smoke in their own homes, before that ban becomes the latest template for other interventions into our private lives?

Next week ThinkScotland begins a regular column on the McNanny State we have become, covering food, alcohol, smoking, sugar, salt and more…

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