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Wednesday, February 05, 2014 

The return of bansturbation.

It seems a while since we last had an outbreak of bansturbation.  We have of course had the imposition of opt-out internet filters, which it has now been recognised are not working as they should, but objections to them aside, it isn't exactly the same thing as the outright introduction of censorship.

Yesterday did however see the government re-announcing the banning of retailers selling alcohol at below cost price, thankfully not quite the same thing as the alternative proposals, a minimum cost per unit of alcohol or extra duty on strong lagers and ciders, which even by the standards of we know best policy are either deliberately discriminatory or in the latter instance utterly ignorant.  Still, if it's not booze, it's fags and while for the moment the threat of plain packaging has receded as we wait for evidence on how it's worked in Australia (and if it has had a discernible impact, I could yet be convinced it's as worth supporting as the shrieks from the tobacco companies would normally suggest) into the breach has entered a ban on smoking in cars when children are present.

My objection to a ban is not so much down to it being an intervention into a private place, as cars long haven't been considered one.  Regardless of whether you're driving or not, in law you're considered to be in charge of a motor vehicle, meaning if you're sleeping off a skinful despite having no intentions of driving till you've sobered up, you can still be prosecuted under drink drive legislation. Despite misgivings about the smoking ban, and I continue to see no reason why pubs and clubs should not be able to have smoking rooms/areas so long as staff aren't pressured to work in them against their wishes, not stinking of stale smoke after a night out is a benefit difficult to argue against on its own. Not subjecting children to second hand smoke is similarly something no one wants to be seen as defending; it doesn't matter that very few of those who do smoke while in a car will be doing so without having the window open, or that the vast majority simply don't while they're with children.

It's more that as is so often the case when it comes to legislation which is meant to make people think something is unacceptable more than anything else, there's been absolutely no thought put into how such a ban is going to be enforced.  In her Graun piece defending the attempts to force the ban into law, Luciana Berger doesn't so much as mention how the poor sods in the police would attempt to stamp out the practice.  They already have to look out for those not wearing their seat belt or using a mobile phone; if the amendment becomes law, one presumes they will soon be sitting in lay-bys, eagle-eyed, checking to see if drivers are puffing on coffin nails while ferrying sprogs about as well.  Considering the number of people that still use their phones while driving, something far more dangerous for all concerned than a lit cigarette, it does make you wonder at times about the priorities of those who suddenly decide something must be done.

Then there is the fear that this is just the next step in the move towards banning smoking in the home as well, regardless of how anathema that would currently seem.  The problems of enforcing the ban do though raise the point that if the police are to be empowered to intervene in a car, then what will be the difference with doing so in the home, should a "concerned" neighbour complain about children being made to suffer a smoking parent or relative?  Presumably the police will overwhelmingly act having seen someone smoking with children in the car themselves, but you can't see them not acting if provided with evidence via video of someone flagrantly breaking the law.

My personal worry is that just as we seem to be moving, however slowly, towards the point at which the end of drug prohibition becomes a real possibility, policy on those substances which are legal is becoming ever more reactionary.  If we won't allow adults to make their own decisions on whether they smoke or drink without putting ever more restrictions on the sale and use of their poison of choice, what hope for getting that of cannabis or MDMA into proportion?

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Plain packaging is coming - a Lords amendment to the Children and Families Bill (the same piece of legislation with the provisions about smoking in cars) gives the government the right to make regulations governing how cigarettes are sold, including branding on the packs. If at first you don't succeed, try the Lords.

My concern on that again is more down to what it potentially means for decriminalisation than how it will affect smokers or stop the young from starting, which without some substantial evidence I simply don't think it will have any impact on. Then again, the companies wouldn't be so vociferously against it if their research didn't suggest it does have some bearing.

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