Is anywhere free from the anti-smoking lobby?

After banning smoking in our public houses, now they want to ban it in our private spaces. First up, the car.

Suzy Dean

Topics Politics

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This week, the new head of the UK Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Professor Terence Stephenson, suggested that adults should be banned from smoking in cars when accompanied by children under the age of 16. Following in the footsteps of Steve Ryan, medical director of Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool, Stephenson argued that: ‘You can’t inflict [smoking] on your colleagues any more. Why should we treat our children’s health as a lower priority?’ (1)

Despite Stephenson’s assumption of the dangers of passive smoking, the jury is still out on how much of a risk it really is. In 2006, following the ban on smoking, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee published a report on the government’s management of risk. It concluded that environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is not the threat it’s purported to be and therefore did not justify a ban. Moreover, much of the science which makes up the passive-smoking case fails to mention that smoking-related illnesses – like lung cancer, cardiovascular disease and respiratory disease – are the product of a number of factors, such as genetics and diet, in addition to the amount of exposure to tobacco smoke. Hence Stephenson himself can only refer to a ‘link’ between smoking and chest infections (2).

Still, armed with the passive smoking argument, the anti-smoking lobby has now sought to turn smoking into a child-protection issue, demonising parents who light up around their children. Rather than seeing children as dependent upon their parents, groups like Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) go so far as to portray children as being at risk from their parents. For example, as part of Channel 4’s Battlefront series in 2008, Zander Percival, a sixth-form student, advocated a smoking ban in cars with children because, as he put it, ‘if you put a kid in the car with second-hand cigarette smoke, you are basically killing them’ (3). Here the coercive, guilt-tripping impetus steps out from behind the veil of passive-smoking pseudo-science.

The controlling impulse behind the anti-smoking campaign is nowhere more apparent than in the mooted crusade against smoking in cars. Stephenson writes: ‘If you act to make people safer, you get accused of introducing the nanny state. If you let people make their own decisions, you get accused of neglect.’ (4) Leaving aside the fact that it is deeply problematic to see the role of politics and policy in terms of making people safe, Stephenson also highlights his own prejudices about adults’ inability to make decisions involving their own children. The state, it seems, makes a better parent.

This latest child-centred, parent-baiting extension to the anti-smoking campaign is revealing. It shows how the notion of passive smoking has been used to justify ever-increasing intervention into people’s lives. First, anti-smoking legislation invaded the public house. Now, with the focus shifting to children, family life – already a target for all sorts of initiatives – has been made a legitimate site for state intervention on smoking, too.

Increased policing of our smoking habits is not a problem for smokers alone. Anyone who spouts ideas about managing adult habits attacks the fabric of our democracy, the right of capable autonomous adults to make decisions for themselves. For it is adults alone who have the legitimate moral authority to determine how best to care for their children and whether they light up or not, not anti-smoking moralists like Stephenson. A ban on smoking in cars may feel like a foregone conclusion, but it isn’t. We should defend adult decision-making and tell the government and its army of moralists to butt out rather than watch our freedoms go up in a puff of smoke.

Suzy Dean is a writer and journalist based in London.

Previously on spiked

Christopher Snowdon looked at how critics of smoking bans are labelled as ‘deniers’. Rob Lyons looked at the crazy world of England’s smoking ban and accused UK health campaigners of smoking smokers out of polite society. spiked writers around the world reported on the global crusade against the ‘evil weed’. Nathalie Rothschild reported on a rare protest against the English smoking ban. Mick Hume reflected on what the ban says about today’s society. Dolan Cummings argued that freedom should not be for sale. Or read more at spiked issue Smoking.

(1) Call to ban child-in-car smoking, BBC News, 17 June 2009

(2) Ban smoking in cars with children, BBC News, 17 June 2009

(3) See Battlefront here

(4) Ban smoking in cars with children, BBC News, 17 June 2009

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


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