Comment | Smoke and mirrors

Without a doubt, we live in a society that frowns upon smoking, meaning that recent proposals to ban smoking in cars carrying children under the age of 18 have been widely applauded.

While it is irrefutable that any movement involving the protection of children is a positive one, the potential prohibition of smoking in cars while children are present strikes me as both pointless, and part of an unsavoury wider political agenda.

Personally, I do not know of anybody that would smoke in such a confined space with small children around, but it would surely not be naïve to assume that those who do would not pay much attention to a the ban, making the policy completely futile. The proposed scheme also seems unnecessarily interventionist; this ban has a very different tone to the previous smoking embargo enforced in July 2007, which prevented the consumption of tobacco in public places. The current proposal invades the personal lives of smokers, which begs the question, where does it stop?

People are obviously aware of the harmful effects of smoking upon themselves and others, yet have still made a conscious and informed decision to either take up or continue the habit, illustrating the concept of freedom of choice in action. It is plausible that it is merely a matter of time before smoking is banned in your own home, and then banned altogether, which does not conform with the idea of democracy that we pride ourselves on.

Another flaw of the intended ban is the subject of enforcement. It would be almost impossible to tell when driving past a car whether there is anyone smoking inside, let alone if there is a child also present. With an already stretched police force, would it not be a waste of police time and resources to pursue cars which may, or may not, contain children? Additionally, smoking in cars accounts for a minute window of time in which people smoke, meaning even if the ban was enforced, it will not eradicate smoking in houses, which would undoubtedly contribute significantly more to both the action and effects of secondary smoking.

However, recent cuts to the welfare budget have left people feeling increasingly disillusioned and discontented with the coalition government. There seems to be an unrelenting torrent of news reports telling of further ‘reform’ to welfare, education and healthcare, which are leaving more and more people disenfranchised.  With support for Labour undeniably on the rise in the wake of these changes, it’s entirely reasonable to suggest that this sudden eagerness for a ban on smoking in cars is an almost literal ‘smokescreen’, and a prime example of the work of shadowy spin doctors enlisted by the coalition to divert some attention away from the negative impact these policies are having upon society.

In a similar way to the surge of public approval gay marriage was met with last year which averted attention from massive budget cuts, the smoking ban momentarily distracts people from the detrimental effects that more significant government policy is having on a nationwide scale. In the end, we must focus on the bigger picture, instead of relatively trivial government schemes and campaign for change in a society which is rapidly deteriorating.

Philippa Williams

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