Tuesday 28 October 2003

In defence of civil society

Over on Samizdata Perry de Havilland has posted his views on London's Big Smoke Debate, which is asking whether anti-smoking laws should be introduced to regulate privately owned establishments that are open to the public.

Perry writes:

To take the view that replacing social interaction (such as deciding to walk out of a bar because it is too smoky or quitting your job because you dislike smoky environments) with political interaction, namely agreeing that people can be dragged off to jail by armed men because they smoke in places you would like to enter as a matter of your discretionary ease, is nothing less than taking the view that imposing your convenience by force (and we are not talking prohibiting robbery or murder here) is okay, because anything done via political process is okay.
I agree with this viewpoint. Interestingly, yesterday's Herald reported on a recent survey on this very question:
Three out of 10 non-smokers (30%) and more than half of adult smokers (55%) had "no real concern" about smoking in pubs, clubs, and bars, according to the research.

Only 17% of all adults believe smoking should be banned in these places. The majority (86%) felt that the smoking situation in pubs, clubs and bars has improved in recent years.

This survey is rejected by the usual suspects:
However, Tanith Muller, spokesperson for ASH Scotland, the anti-tobacco organisation, dismissed the research as "motivated by clear commercial interest".
Ms Muller claims that another survey shows a majority in favour of further "restrictions", but how many of those people would favour a complete ban? What is fascinating is Ms Muller's assumption that research can be dismissed because of its "clear commercial interest". In a free market - the commercial world - willing buyers interact with willing sellers as explained in Mr de Havilland's article. ASH on the other hand operates in the political world. I would argue that research favoured by the tobacco banners serves a clear political interest and should be judged accordingly. Let's not forget that controlling people's freedoms is in the class interest of large numbers who are unable or unwilling to make an honest buck in the marketplace.