Blair to ban public smoking at last

No, he’s not talking about banning it altogether - just about places where people eat, according to a report in today’s Observer. And for once I’ve got something good to say about the present government - because I support this 100%. I’m not sure how feasible it is to ban smoking altogether, but I’m for anything which means I don’t have to put up with other people’s smoke.

This is, of course, likely to provoke howls from smokers’ “rights” campaigners and from some libertarians. The fact is, you don’t have the right to blow your smoke into someone else’s food or (as has happened to me on a few occasions) straight into their mouth. It may not give them cancer, but it’s thoroughly unpleasant. (Although it’s more likely to happen when you walk behind a smoker, as happened to me in the Waterloo East walkway this past week.)

The other thing this ban will bring about is an end to those awkward situations where someone insists on smoking in a place where there are signs up telling them not to. In some cases, they light their fag before they ask you whether you mind them smoking. It’s a way of putting you on the spot, and making you feel that to refuse them would be inconsiderate. In fact, they are the people being inconsiderate; consideration would be not to light up in their presence, especially while they are eating.

And there is in fact a libertarian case for prohibiting smoking in places where people eat. It removes the onus on both restauranteurs and customers to stop people smoking, and prevents hoodlums from imposing their poisonous habit on others with the “what you gonna do about it” line. It’s in the owner’s interest not to have a smoky restaurant and to be able to offer their customers a pleasant dining experience, just as it was in the interests of restaurant, café and bar owners not to have to turn people away on the grounds of colour.

There are occasions where the rights of the majority take precedence over the liberties of individuals, which is particularly relevant in this day and age when the number of smokers has gone down so drastically. Of course, it will have the beneficial effect of letting it be known that there’s no longer any such thing as a “pleasant”, “social” smoke. For me, a pleasant meal in a smoky room is a contradiction in terms.

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