Jason Reed is the founder of Young Voices UK and a policy fellow at the Consumer Choice Center.
In February last year, Ansaf Azhar, the director of public health for Oxfordshire County Council, awakened the “Oxfordshire Tobacco Control Strategy”. Azhar had decided that the proportion of people living in Oxfordshire who smoked (12%) was too high and needed to be reduced. When less than five percent of people smoke, an area can be considered “smoke-free.” Azhar became his mission to turn Oxfordshire’s first smokeless county into England.
Oxfordshire’s tobacco control strategy was to go out by the county council in principle in May last year. They would forgive you for thinking that, since then, the public health director of a local authority could have had more urgent problems than attending to than smoking. But apparently, Azhar has continued his crusade against cigarettes without letting her disappoint.
He has now horrified people with right thinking up and down the country by declaring the council’s intention to ban smoking for outside hospitality. While the plan currently does not have a timeline for implementation or any other firm commitment, the fact that it is part of the plan says very worrying things about the direction we are heading.
In the new world order of the nanny state, everything can be classified neatly into good and bad. Everything is black and white: it is vitally or morally reprehensible. Once it is accepted that an activity is objectively “bad”, who could oppose its ban?
Of course, the real world, outside the offices of “public health directors,” is quite different. Not everything is black and white. There are many shades of gray. But nuance and freedom of choice are not so fashionable these days.
Unfortunately for smokers, cigarettes have been considered a social evil. Their existence is so objectively horrible that the reasoning behind drastic measures to erase them from the earth’s surface does not even need to justify it. The result is that ridiculous policy proposals such as the Oxfordshire Tobacco Control Strategy can be signed and made a reality and made a reality with a surprisingly little control of those we choose to represent ourselves and safeguard our civil liberties.
If you can handle it, I recommend a brief read of the infringing document, for novelty value if nothing else. It doesn’t talk about general bans, widespread restrictions, and ill-thought-out brakes on our freedoms, but rather about “creating smoke-free environments,” as if they were giving us something new to enjoy and we should be thankful for.
Most troubling is the way the authors of the paper seem to completely deny that they are using state tools. They write: “The interventions needed to successfully denormalize smoking and achieve a smoke-free Oxfordshire can be seen as a ‘nanny statesman’ or as an assault on the personal choice of some people. The whole approach of the system to making smoking less visible does not prohibit the choice of people who choose to smoke – its aim is to create smoke-free environments in more places in our communities, protecting the free choice of the nine out of ten residents in Oxfordshire who choose not to smoke “.
Oh, you thought our harsh and new restrictions on what you can and can’t do in public were an assault on your freedom, right? Don’t worry, if you look closely, you’ll find that the usual activity bans offer you month freedom, no less.
The counterfactual logic behind the introduction of new regulations in the name of “public health” has no limits. If the council really wanted to make Oxfordshire healthier, it would see that the answer would not be to put more unnecessary pressure on the hospitality industry at such a difficult time.
Instead, the council should leave all its efforts in the service of vaping as an alternative to smoking. More than half of British e-cigarette users (around 1.7 million people) are old smokers. Those nine out of ten non-smokers in Oxfordshire will not have to worry health risks second-hand electronic cigarette steamer. Even Public Health England grants – with a lot of reluctance – that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking.
And yet in the 24-page Oxfordshire Tobacco Control Strategy, there is not a single mention of vaping, the most effective tool for tobacco control we have. This raises the question: what do public health authorities really want if they do not want to make people healthier? When they blatantly avoid proven harm reduction tools in favor of centralized and free policy interventions, it becomes impossible to sympathize with their motives.
This problem is much more widespread than in Oxfordshire. In fact, the county is only a few years ahead of national public health outcomes. His strategy mimics that of Public Health England, which works for Matt Hancock goal to Make Smoke Free England in 2030
The onslaught on effective methods of harm reduction and the shift to a new era of nanny statism comes from the top. Last week, the World Health Organization honrat the Minister of Health of India for his work on “tobacco control”, which in particular includes prohibiting vaping. A new APPG, chaired by Conservative MP Mark Pawsey, seeks to end the pernicious influence of the WHO in areas like this. This task becomes more difficult with each passing day.
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