Opinion: Prohibition 3 or how I learned to stop worrying and love failure

I am a non-smoker, apart from the odd birthday cigar. After initial misgivings about the details of the public building smoking ban in the UK, I have come to see it as the most significant and beneficial health change in human behaviour in many decades. It has transformed our public places for the better and helped thousands to give up.

Despite that, I have always been suspicious of the increasingly fanatical political drive against smoking. It has always had an undercurrent reminiscent of the 19th century Temperance movement that gave rise to the disaster of “Prohibition” of alcohol.

There can’t be a single human in the developed world who doesn’t know smoking is one of the things harmful to health. I increasingly wonder when the crusade be concluded. What is its actual goal?  Supporters of the crusade say “improved health” but reach far beyond that in their planning, which appears increasingly to be the total elimination of all smoking of all kinds from society.

The total elimination of all smoking would require the criminalisation of all cigarettes, cigars, pipes, tobacco plants, and the addition of smoking to the unending “War on Drugs” which I shall call Prohibition 2. It would no doubt be just as ineffective at controlling smoking as Prohibition 2 has been at controlling drugs, other than giving smugglers another fantastically profitable product to smuggle, of course.

Surely, no one could be that daft? Well, it seems that they could, in fact. Tasmania will become the first state to debate in legislature a total ban on tobacco. Bizarrely, and unenforceably the ban will only apply to those born in the 21st century, but the Rubicon has been crossed now, and others will follow. Finland and Singapore are already in the next wave.

And so it begins, the first shots in the the war of Prohibition 3 are fired. This is where we’re going after all. I was right to be suspicious. Perhaps that was always the intention,  but in any case, if this is where it’s going then from now I no longer support any further anti-smoking measures in the UK, whatever the intention. We simply can’t afford a third war of prohibition, when the previous two failed so disastrously and expensively.

* Dr Mark Wright is a councillor in Bristol and was the 2015 general election Parliamentary candidate for Bristol South.

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  • Daniel Henry 29th Aug '12 - 4:08pm

    I’m willing to accept the ban on “fancy packaging” because it doesn’t reduce availability, but I agree that we shouldn’t go as far as a complete ban like Tasmania have. We do have to expect SOME personal responsibility from people.

    You’ve also got me curious.
    If prohibition 3 is the potential banning of smoking, and prohibition 2 is the banning of drugs, what’s prohibition 1? The 1920s American banning of alcohol?

  • It seems strange to base an article on a non-existent proposal. I think that we still have some way to go without making purchase of tobacco illegal..

    Annoyingly, on a sunny day, the only place a non-smoker can evade the fag ash annies and andys is to go inside the pub instead of sitting outside it.. Also, when visiting offices, one has to hold one’s breath while one walks through a guard of honour of smokers while ploughing through the debris they create.

    I think that a ban on smoking within 20 metres of an entrance to any establishment (including catering establishments) could be the next step.

  • Is there anything either Liberal or Democratic about banning smoking? It does damage health – but usually over a long period of time [yes I know there are exceptions].

    Why aren’t the same people calling for a ban of drinking and gambling? These both can be far more, rapidly, damaging to the individual, their families – and in the case of too much drink – those around them.

    I am inclined to believe that the smoking ban is not based on the purest of motives.

  • We already losing the tobacco . The prices are so high that in some areas the market is almost entirely in the black economy. A ban on promotional packaging will just make it even harder to detect.
    And let’s be , if governments really were that moral, they wouldn’t increase what is effectively an addict tax every year.

  • Good to see an article like this.

    There is nothing liberal whatsoever about the continued vilification of smokers – especially when policy suggestions such as putting cigarettes in plain packaging or banning smoking in cars so to ‘protect children’ are based on such faulty logic.

  • Steve Comer 1st Sep '12 - 2:14am

    Banning ‘fancy packaging’ is just the sort of gimmick that MPs love, then a few years down the line they’ll start complaining about all the unintended consequences of their ill-thought out legislation!
    In the UK we have a massive problem with the illegal importation of counterfeit tobacco products. The health risks from some of the stuff criminals shove into these fakes are huge. So if we put cigarettes in plain packaging we make the counterfeiters job a hell of a lot easier, You’ll only be able to spot fakes by analysing the content. At present poor quality packaging is usually the give away, go for plain packets and you’ll make Custom’s task in seizing this rubbish almost impossible, So lets think about what we’re doing before leaping on the latest bandwagon.

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