Brian Monteith: Follow Boris on smoking ban rejection

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Boris Johnson has declined to introduce a smoking ban in Trafalgar Square and London’s Parks, but if London’s next mayor is the Labour candidate it will only be a matter of time ­before such a ban becomes reality – no ­matter what the public thinks.

How long then before an Edinburgh politician proposes a smoking ban for the city’s parks and communal spaces? Could it happen here? Victoria Park? Leith Links? Porty beach? St Andrew Square? Princes Street Gardens? Where will smokers actually be allowed to have a puff?

Maybe segregated benches in Princes Street for smokers and non-smokers? Out of sight up a close or in a multi-storey car park?

Let’s cut to the chase, the people that want a ban on smoking in parks, beaches and open spaces really want to ban smoking altogether. They ­presumably don’t think they can ­persuade politicians to introduce such a draconian law, never mind enforce it, so instead they go for a gradual series of creeping bans.

First, 30 years ago it was some buses and railway carriages and short-haul flights; then all buses, trains and planes. Then it was certain public rooms and workplaces and sports stadiums on a voluntary basis before a complete ban was enforced by law – even in private members’ clubs and bus shelters.

Employees can no longer smoke in their own van, even if they are the only ones to use it – because it’s deemed a workplace. A smoking ban will soon be enforced in private cars where children are present – but it is only a matter of time before it will be all cars, all of the time. The logic of such a ban means that smoking in front of ­children in one’s own home will become a target too.

So it was only a matter of time before smoking in open spaces becomes the latest campaign too.

The idea that smoking in enclosed public places is dangerous to non-smokers has become a readily accepted truth despite the lack of any evidence of a causal link to ill-health of non-smokers. That’s no surprise really when four out of five adults don’t smoke and don’t want to be at risk – no matter how small or unproveable it may be – but a danger from people smoking in the open air?

The idea’s so preposterous that only anti-tobacco fanatics would consider suggesting it. Instead the argument for a ban on smoking in parks and open spaces is presented as way to protect children from seeing “bad” adult role models from smoking so that they might not copy them. The claim of protecting children – from salt, sugar, fat, bad parenting, competitive sports, name-calling – has become the modern default position of the nannies and bullies that believe they know better than the rest of us – and tobacco is their chief target. Banning colourful packaging and counter displays is just part of it – as is taking smoking scenes out of old movies – but rather than accelerate the trend of declining smoking rates they have started to plateau and in some countries actually climb.

When one city – especially a big capital – introduces a ban others quickly follow, not least to try and claim the title of first in their own jurisdiction, like Edinburgh being first in Scotland.

It’s not as if there are no examples for the shrill voices of tobacco control to point to; Mayor Bloomberg, who had a habit of imposing his will on New Yorkers’ lifestyles, banned smoking in Central Park, after first introducing his ban in pubs and clubs. Another inconvenient fact you won’t hear is that while the adult smoking rate has fallen across the United States it has climbed in New York. Just imposing bans doesn’t actually work.

There is plenty of pollution in our air from many different sources that makes the smoking of cigarettes of no consequence. Buses, lorries, taxis all belch out noxious fumes, and as for “bad” role models the fact that the smoking in pubs forced so many ­people to stand in our streets is an inconvenient truth the tobacco taliban naturally want to ignore.

Instead of investing in our parks and public spaces with attractive plants shrubs, statues and fountains our councils would need to employ smoking wardens with their instant fine tickets ready to be issued. Our blue meanies would seem tame compared to these new puritanical commandants.

No lives would be saved, nor would children be convinced to not take up smoking – for driving smoking underground will not have the desired effect. Just as prohibition of alcohol in United States actually led to an increase in crime, more assaults and murders, more liver disease and ill health – so forcing people to go against seeking the sinful pleasure of smoking by prohibitions will not work. Prohibition has hardly stopped the trade in marijuana, heroin and cocaine – all it has done is push it into the hands of criminal gangs. Moving tobacco gradually, ban by ban, into effectively the same illegal status as those drugs – by making tobacco legal to buy but illegal to consume only undermines respect for the law – and the politicians that enforce the bans.

Boris was wise to give the ban a body swerve – but will our councillors be so smart?