To ban or not to ban? Not hunting with dogs this time, but smoking in enclosed public places. (On the former, some constituents have written in to ask why so few MP’s were in the Chamber at the time of its invasion a month ago; the answer is that most MP’s made their minds up on this some time ago, and their chances of encountering a new and decisive argument by sitting in the Chamber for four hours were remote; better to get back to the desk and answer all the emails about the failings of the Working Family Tax Credits).
Banning smoking in public places I find a more difficult issue; I wish we lived in a world where tobacco had never been invented and no one smoked, but we don’t. I wish all those who want to give up smoking were able to, and that young children weren’t persuaded to start.
When I was a Health Minister in Margaret Thatcher’s first administration, I took a tough line with the tobacco barons on sport sponsorship and advertisements. I banned smoking at the meetings I held with them, and tried to get a health warning not just on the cigarette packs, but on the cigarettes themselves. The barons resisted this; the ink, they asserted, contained substances that could damage the smoker’s health (Yes, honestly, that is what they told me.)
Following my efforts on the anti-smoking front, I was moved by Mrs Thatcher to another Department of State and later invited by ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) to the Central Middlesex Hospital to celebrate the 80th birthday of one of the pioneers of the movement – Dr Keith Ball. The climax of the occasion was the arrival of a giant birthday cake, decorated with 80 candles. They remained unlit for a very long time; no one present had a match or lighter.
But to return to today’s dilemma; I personally would go to the pub and eat out more frequently, if there was a smoke-free environment. I believe there are risks associated with passive smoking, and those who work in enclosed public places are entitled to a clean environment. The freedom of the smoker to smoke in an enclosed public space ends where my nose begins.
Would I vote for a ban, following the initiative in the Irish Republic and some American States? Probably.