The Smoking Ban

Update: They’ve voted for the full ban! Woohoo! Brilliant.

MPs will tonight vote on the extent of the smoking ban in England. There’ll be three options:

Option 1: Muppetry
Option 2: w00t!
Option 3: Muppetry

All right, that’s not quite the official line. Here’s the BBC’s take:

Option 1: Essentially this is Labour’s manifesto pledge to introduce a ban on smoking in all enclosed public places in England, except pubs which do not serve food, and private members’ clubs. It was the option agreed last autumn by Cabinet after protracted debate. Championed by ex-health secretary John Reid.

Option 2: A complete ban on smoking in all enclosed public places, including all pubs and private clubs. This was the option the Department of Health, under current Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt, was believed to favour after consultation suggested the Option 1 might be unworkable and make health inequalities worse. Championed by health minister Caroline Flint.

Option 3: A complete ban on smoking in all enclosed public places, except for private clubs. This offers another option to MPs facing anger from private clubs, such as Labour/Conservative clubs, working mens’ and golf clubs at having a ban imposed on them. Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt says she is yet to make up her mind, but is considering voting for this option.

I just cannot see how you can impose a smoking ban on the basis of health, but allow exemptions. Staff would still be exposed to smoke against their will, and if that still happens what’s the point of the bill? I suppose the issue is personal choice, but I don’t see that argument either. If smoking were only harmful to the person making the choice, I’d understand, but the point is that people are harmed through no fault of their own.

Exemptions for private clubs would affect me, since I go dancing at a private club every week, and many of the social functions relating to it take place in similar venues. Given that I’m there for a dance class, and other people are doing something that harms themselves and me, the smokers are the ones being unreasonable and I think it’s up to them to defend their position – the ‘you can feel free to go elsewhere’ argument doesn’t work. I don’t mean to sound like it’s ‘us vs smokers’, though – actually, I’ve been very surprised by the attitudes of many smokers interviewed on the news. I’d say that the majority support a total ban, and many seem to view it as an good opportunity to give up. Which is cool.

Unless something totally weird happens, smoking will definitely be banned in the majority of public places, and this will make a huge difference to me. I just can’t stand smoke, and I’ve been known to leave if people nearby light up. It’s not something I choose to let bother me, it just does – I can’t help it. I’ve seen the statistics for passive smoking, and I resent having to breathe it in. That and having to wash any clothes I was wearing. Bleurgh. I very rarely go to pubs, and choose restaurants carefully, because of smoke. When I was in New York it was great not to have to even think about it when finding somewhere to eat. It just seemed such a reasonable state of affairs.

As far as I can tell from media reports, it was John Reid who demanded exemptions for private clubs. He was health minister at the time of the original proposal, and then moved on after(?) the election. New health secretary Patricia Hewitt was strongly in favour of a complete ban, but with John Reid opposing her the argument came down to the election manifesto. Although I’m very happy that many people kicked up a fuss and forced this free vote, it’s a shame the government couldn’t have taken the responsible line in the first place.

Of course, if it were up to me I might raise the issue of people inflicting cigarette smoke upon children at home. But that’s me 🙂 Health secretary Patricia Hewitt stated this morning that she intends to vote for option two. I very much hope that the majority of MPs follow her lead.

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Having said all that, here’s how Patricia Hewitt opened the debate:

People’s homes, residential care homes, hospitals, prisons and hotel bedrooms should be exempted, she said.

Spot the odd one out! You’d think if there’s one place people definitely shouldn’t be allowed to smoke, outside of petrol stations, it’d be hospitals…