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Monday, 10 February 2014

The Totalitarian Crusade Against Second-Hand Smoke

If there really were such a thing as a bullshit detector, a machine that bleeped upon encountering nonsense, it would probably go into meltdown whenever someone talked about second-hand smoke.

In the modern public sphere, there are few issues that are as riddled with myth, misinformation, contradictory claims and outright claptrap as the scare about what smokers' foggy puffing is doing to us innocent non-smokers.

In recent years we've been told that second-hand smoke, or passive smoking, as some people call it, is as bad as smoking itself and can give you lung cancer. And apparently if you are surrounded by it in a car that has its windows closed that is like being in the most smoky, nicotine-stained bar you could ever imagine (if such bars still existed, which of course they don't).

Yet it turns out that these claims about the toxicity and cancer-causing powers of other people's smoke are either untrue or unproven. So how do prissy anti-smoking campaigners and health-freaky politicians continue to get away with churning out tall tales about second-hand smoke? Why won't this panic die under the boot of actual facts? What gives it its Michael Myers-like ability to keep coming back, in a crazier form every time, wagging its warning finger at humankind?

The evidence-light nature of the second-hand smoke scare was on full display during British politicians' recent mean-spirited attempt to outlaw smoking in cars in which children are present.

Last week, the House of Lords, our unelected second chamber, gave its nod of approval to a new Bill that would make it an offense to smoke in a car with kids, even if the windows are open. The Bill is now working its way back to the House of Commons, and if a majority of the members there agree that coppers should have the right to stop and threaten with arrest any motorist who has that apparently deadly combination of a lit ciggie and a child in his vehicle, then the Bill will become law and another bit of Brits' everyday freedom will be stubbed out.

Smoking in a car with minors is already banned in Australia, Canada, South Africa and in some American states, including California, Maine and Oregon. These bans capture superbly the zealous miserabilism of the modern-day nannying'n'nudging set. They expose the new authoritarians' casual disregard for the notion of privacy, so that even our privately owned vehicles come to be seen as fair game for petty laws to curb and control what was once perfectly legal behavior; they reveal the nannying lobby's powerful distrust of everyday men and women, who are now viewed as so bone-headed and bereft of decency that new laws are required to prevent them from polluting their own children, both physically and morally; and they show what shockingly low esteem the ideal of autonomy is held in these days, so that anyone who stands up and says "I think adults should be free to choose what vices to indulge in and pleasures to pursue" is either laughed at for being naive or branded a wicked stooge for Big Tobacco.

So what evidence have British politicians cited for their desire to ban smoking in cars? Well, it's not really clear. Peruse British media coverage of the second-hand smoke issue and I guarantee you will end up bamboozled.

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