I have been having an interesting email conversation with a well-known Melbourne ethicist on the matter of smoking. I was on the defence. He was very seriously trying to persuade me to give up one of my delights, ie. the daily puff on the pipe, and this on the grounds that this activity was unethical and immoral. He made a good case.
Nevertheless, I was not convinced. Of course, before very long, I won’t need to be convinced. Pipe smoking will have gone the way of the dodo (it is on its way there already) thanks to legislation and burdensome taxation. The Sunday Age, well known for its sensationalism, has a front page story on the plans of the anti-smoking campaign to abolish this ancient practice for ever.
Of course, the article doesn’t mention pipe smoking. It is all about cigarettes. I have never smoked cigarettes. I don’t like them (I tried one once). I like my tobacco in more traditional forms. Cigarettes are like fast food. I don’t mind a cigar every now and again if someone gives me one – I can’t afford them – but they are a bit smelly. Pipe smoking is, I would argue, a culture. There are competitions in Europe for making a pipe last the longest (which I can see the point off) and the quickest (which I can’t). Nevertheless, this is proof (to me at least) that there is something in the art of pipe smoking that is quite unique.
But the plans outlined in the Sunday Age article – by putting an end to cigarette smoking – will also kill this ancient culture. The suggestions are:
1) A licence for smokers
2) a complete ban at a given date in the future (I find it interesting that the Finnish government has planned a total ban by 2040 – long enough in the future not to affect any of those who legislated for it)
3) even more taxation.
The first seems to me silly, the second patronising – I will come to this, and the third… well, I can see how appealing that might be to governments: more money, less smoking.
However, despite all the arguments (and I acknowledge they are good ones to do with health etc.), I do see this as an infringement upon my personal liberties. I agree that legislation that bans smoking where it might affect others directly (eg. in cars and in enclosed spaces) is a good thing. But I feel particularly annoyed at the draconian efforts of non-smokers to completely curtail what is an extremely pleasurable pastime for the minority of the population who are smokers. It is the nanny-state trying not only to tell me what is good for me, not only trying to persuade me to give up the pipe, but actually forcing me to comply. It rankles.
Truly, I don’t expect legislation to ban smoking to succeed completely. It is too profitable as a means of revenue raising. But I do think our governments will probably push taxation to the limit whereby they reach some sort of equilibrium between income and reduction of smoking.
I don’t expect many of you to sympathise with this little complaint. But just imagine how you might feel if, at some stage in the future, it was decided that coffee was “bad for you” (which it probably is) and they try to ban coffee drinking. How would you cope with that?