Let me from the outset say that I don’t think adults should smoke in cars when children are present.
As an ex-smoker, I certainly would not have done this and it wasn’t just because of the huge wealth of evidence to show the serious impact on a child’s health, but on grounds of taking responsibility for your own actions and decency.
When I smoked, it was my choice and I always tried to minimise its impact on others. Acutely aware of the risks I was running in merrily puffing away, I had no desire to force this upon those around me.
My own moralizing aside, I do not support the recently passed proposals to impose a blanket ban on smoking in cars whenever a minor is present. There is a huge difference between banning smoking in public buildings and banning smoking in cars, even when it is qualified.
This measure, which was backed by MPs yesterday, crosses a dangerous Rubicon, giving the State the right to intervene in our private lives and private spaces on a scale that is Orwellian in ambition and reach.
It establishes the principle that, on the grounds on health, the State can make persistent unwanted intrusions into our lives.
It raises the important question, where next for this dangerous power?
Advocates of the policy compare the measure to controls aimed at stopping people from driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but they are very different.
One is an immediate safety measure, as a US study showed that you are four and half times more likely to have a fatal car crash if you have been drinking (drugs roughly the same). The other is to make up for irresponsible parenting, because I don’t think there is anyone in the UK who doesn’t know about the risks of smoking.
Once this ban gets implemented, anti-smoking campaigners will turn their attention to smoking in private homes, because the reality is there is no difference between someone chain-smoking in a small flat with a child present and someone puffing on a cigarette in a car with a child present – no difference at all.
And after this programme of de-normalising smoking has been completed, many of these campaigners will turn their attention to other vices; alcohol, fat and sugar.
These are not fanciful concerns, there are already active discussions about how to make the consumption of alcohol, fat and sugar more difficult.
Food companies are already under pressure to cut sugar and fat in processed food and ready meals, Stephen Dorrell, Chairman of the Health Select Committee, has already talked about plain packaging of alcoholic drinks, while one campaign group labeled sugar as the new tobacco. Where will this all end?
The very nature of the State is to increase in size and scope, while eroding civil liberties and individual responsibility.
And banning smoking in cars when children are present is not the first assault on parental responsibility.
Successive governments since 1997 have engaged in an unrelenting drive to force parents back to work after having children. They have removed child benefits from middle income earners, tax breaks for married couples and apply constant pressure on mums and dads to leave their kids in socialized childcare for up to 10 hours a day, despite a huge amount of evidence that shows the State is the worst parent imaginable.
Despite all the contradictory evidence, the Government’s message is clear: “We know best”.
Banning smoking in cars when children are present is just the latest attack on the rights and responsibilities of parents. But given its undoubted popularity, the move will encourage the State to interfere further.
And that is why it must be resisted.