Health Warning: You may not smoke, but you can eat yourself to death
- Jacques Rousseau
- 30 May 2012 06:32 (South Africa)
South Africa has some of the most stringent restrictions on the sale, advertising and consumption of tobacco in the developed world. In general, this is a good thing. It seems to me entirely appropriate for harmful substances to be reasonably difficult to obtain, and that they shouldn’t be made to appear attractive to prospective users.
Included among those prospective users are children, who we assume to be less capable than adults of assessing risk. (This is in fact no assumption at all: the brain’s reward system, which governs addiction, isn’t yet fully developed in adolescents or even in most adults until their early 20s.) So, leaving aside the numerous inconsistencies in our paternalism towards children – where crackpots are allowed to home-school, for example – it also seems appropriate to protect children from addictive and harmful substances.
Likewise, those who don’t want to smoke or be exposed to tobacco smoke also deserve protection from harm. It shouldn’t be the norm that a toxic environment is forced on people where that toxicity is easily avoidable at minimal inconvenience to smokers. As a smoker myself, it’s certainly annoying to have my restaurant choices limited. But I’m the one imposing the limitation on myself, as I have no claim on the health of others.
Having said all that, there is nevertheless a difference between protecting the innocent and enforcing undue restrictions on adults who choose a harmful pursuit, even if that choice soon becomes far less a choice than an addiction.
Even though dietary choices are increasingly the subject of interference, with fat and sugar taxes being mooted in various countries, including ours, the prospects of warning labels on “junk food” appear remote (for now, at least). And when junk food does start getting taxed, some inconsistencies in dietary paternalism are likely to become apparent: foie gras seems more dangerous than Big Macs, but the rich are apparently sophisticated enough to know this without the nudge of punitive taxes.
For smoking, though, attitudes and legislation appear premised on not only health concerns but also a moral revulsion, where the latter contributes to some quite strange and illiberal restrictions on freedom. If a smoker satisfies her addiction in a manner that only implicates consenting adults, she should be free to do so – even if disincetivised from doing so by ever-increasing “sin taxes”.
Those consenting adults can include restaurant staff and owners. For staff, we’d of course need to ensure that nobody consents to working in a smoking environment simply because they are desperate for a job, or are otherwise pressured into doing so.
For owners, legislation can be (and to some extent already is) demanding enough that you choose to disallow smoking entirely, simply because additional extraction systems, kitchens and entrances all cost money, and you might not expect to recoup those costs.
In principle, it should be possible to design both legislation and physical spaces such as restaurants in such a way that those of us who seem to desire a premature death can fulfil that desire without causing any harm to non-smokers. At least this seems true for physical harm, which is where moral revulsion becomes relevant. Or if not moral revulsion, then at least the assumption that we all have a duty to live according to someone else’s standards of good and healthy conduct.
How else can one explain various elements of the “Regulations relating to smoking in public places and certain outdoor public places”, a set of proposed amendments to the Tobacco Products Control Act of 1993? When smokers are required to light up “not less than 50 metres away from the closest person” at a public swimming facility, can this possibly be interpreted as safeguarding the health of non-smokers? I’d say not – it is instead a moralistic wagging of fingers, alongside a reminder that you shouldn’t imagine you have the (or this particular) freedom to harm yourself.
It also seems an entirely arbitrary distance, especially when you consider that the prescribed distance from windows, ventilation inlets and doorways is 10m. But then, perhaps smoke travels at a higher velocity over water.
For restaurant owners, the amendments seem roughly equivalent to putting up signs saying “come and smoke here if you like, but we’ll make sure it’s about as enjoyable as a 15-hour layover at Heathrow’s Terminal Five”. Restaurants will be allowed to have a designated (outdoor only) smoking area, but the amendment seems to imagine this space as some sort of purgatory in which to puff in shame.
No food or drink can be served in these smoking areas, and no entertainment can be provided. Strangest of all, smokers must be “discouraged from remaining in the area longer than is necessary to smoke a cigarette”. No guidance is given as to how restaurateurs are meant to discourage smokers, but perhaps the minister of health plans on issuing them all with a pointy stick.
As for the food and drink, it again seems perfectly possible to arrange a restaurant in such a manner that these can be provided without exposing non-smokers to a harmful environment. With regard to entertainment, I can see the sense in not allowing a live band, for example, as this would draw crowds or simply deprive non-smokers of something they might find desirable.
However, if this includes not even allowing a wall-mounted speaker (and the amendment simply prohibits providing “entertainment”), it seems to be a simple punitive measure which seeks to make smoking unattractive enough that it might as well be illegal. Not only illegal for under-18s, as it currently is, but illegal for everybody. Because this is a harm you’re not allowed to inflict on yourself, even as you remain free to subsist off a diet of only triple-patty hamburgers, deep-fried in lard.
As I said at the outset, smoking is certainly a public health issue of great significance, even though obesity has recently overtaken smoking as the leading cause of death in countries such as Australia and America. This might well be the result – at least in part – of making smoking less attractive. The non-smokers reading this might think this a good result, which has simply turned our attention to the next thing that merits dissuasion through taxation or social stigma.
But the end-point of this sort of nannying is to be told what we can and cannot eat, and which sports or activities are simply too dangerous to be permissible. If this were to happen, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find personal liberty becoming a much more important issue to many of the same people who currently have no objection to asking smokers to stand 50m away. Because, as the argument often goes, the cases are “different” – different, at least, in that personal liberty is all good and well - so long as it’s on your terms, not someone else’s. DM
- Regulations relating to smoking in public places and certain outdoor public places on Polity.org.za.
- Homophobia and the politics of outrage
- Please look after the place while I’m gone.
- Parliament – where dead sheep savage one another
- ‘Catholic’ and ‘Muslim’ South Africa
- Free speech doesn’t guarantee an audience
- So atheists are people too?
- A culture of dying
- Deciding when to die
- Minds are what brains do
- So what are universities for?
- Mantashe wants to help you 'Know your DA'
- Hey, teacher, leave them kids alone!
- UCT, race, and the seductive moral outrage machine
- The sound and fury of sanctimony
- Burn the witch!
- Not even Madiba can turn anecdotes into data
- Pornography is coming to eat your children
- Do you know what’s good for you?
- #We Say Enough
- Talking about risk-mitigation is not (always) victim blaming
- Can Frankensalmon triumph over uninformed ad-hoc opinions?
- You can leave your hat on
- If performance-enhancing drugs are bad, let's ban high-fibre cereal too.
- Blood deferrals: Too important to take personally
- The world according to Zuma - and the trouble with 'culture'
- A free market in false choices
- I, for one, welcome our robot overlords
- Debate is the key
- Been there? Got the T-shirt? Think carefully before you wear it...
- You are what you tweet
- Body language: Freedom confronts respect in Body Worlds human forms
- Choose wisely: Mourdock, rape and targeted outrage
- Birds of a feather...philosophise together?
- So who owns oppression, really?
- Help, not demonisation, will stem child abuse
- More about trolls
- Please do not feed the trolls
- Affirmative action: Equity does not come with voting rights alone
- SAA's cadet programme: The sky isn't falling
- South Africa: Why do you make me hate you?
- SA & religion: Eyes wide shut
- Freedom of speech & freedom of abuse
- Is free speech fried in Chick-fil-A debate?
- Colorado killings: there's no comfort in the absurd
- Let's try to avoid drive-by charity on Mandela Day
- First do no harm
- The cutting edge of religion
- Public holidays: positive discrimination?
- The new discrimination – against men
- Censorship: The chilling effect
- Health Warning: You may not smoke, but you can eat yourself to death
- 'I see a red door and I want it painted black'
- Freedom of speech; oh, perish the thought
- Homophobia trending among traditional leaders
- How to meat friends and influence people
- How to meat friends and influence people
- Still hunting, still gathering
- Dogmatix isn't only a canine in the Asterix comic books
- Exactly Whose Humanity is Vanishing?
- Tim Noakes on carbohydrates - fad or fact?
- Mind over matter – and knowing the difference
- Don't PIN your freedoms to Icasa's apron strings
- Killing the messenger never silences the message
- The unbearable rightness of maybe being wrong
- The worrisome worth of foregone conclusions
- The tyranny of labels
- Staring into the abyss of ‘special privileges’
- Twitter censorship, the Streisand Effect and three fingers pointing back
- Free speech is good - but not in my back yard
- Abortion - the great conceptual conundrum
- Killing live animals to talk to dead people is bull
- Stalking votes with over-the-counter vetoes
- Always look on the One side of life
- Get Tested: Get off the entitlement horses and give it a chance
- The Lotters, Harry Potter and SA's judicial system
- The haunting of Helen Zille
- The Great T-Shirt Debate that went horribly wrong
- M&M & the media – playing the ball or the men?
- Twitter - fast food for ever-fattening egos
- How Occupy Wall Street became Pick a Protest
- Steve Jobs was just a man
- What are you?
- Who did ET really call? Woo-woo fest at Wits might have the answer
- How to strut like a slut and itch like a bitch
- The world according to reader feedback
- To judge or not to judge; that is the Mogoeng
- 'A Boy Named Sue' and a victim named 'slut'
- How to bake the perfect humble pie
- How to win friends and influence the irrational
- See what I mean? Or maybe you don't...
- Separating sense from nonsense
- Racial nationalism - the silliest disease of them all
- Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can rip my soul
- Just catch the next feminist wave
- That's right - tertiary education is a privilege, not a right
- The conundrum of university - level remedial education - where do we start?
- The immense value of the egghead
- If ridicule be the right remedy, mock on
- Racism, put on your ballot-proof vest
- It was the lizard on the grassy knoll
- Of unenclosed toilets and enclosed ballot booths
- Our responsibility to build a better 'Bill'
- It's the Singer, not the Song
- Trapped in an abusive relationship? Dial 0800-VOTE
- Hate speech and hateful words - there is a difference
- Why the Bill of Responsibilities doesn't make the grade
- Natural selection and principled prejudice
- The Orwellian horror of a world without grammar
- Beware the Jabberwock
- Ya don’t learn nuffink by shutting others up
- U2, Brute!
- Unfollowing the defriended is like delisting the unlikeable
- There's something fishy about Kenny and his critics
- Astrology - the gullible's travails are written in the stars
- Dr Woo and the Silicon Snake-oil Bangle Sellers
- Life, liberty and the pursuit of dignity
- Who wants to be African anyway?
- The Beatles warned you, Mr President
- Annelie Botes, racism, moralistic awards 'n all
- The silence of the racists
- The proof of the pudding
- Freedom is a fragile thing
- The conditionality of morality
- Of guillotines, smoking, kissing children and scientific proof
- Why moral absolutism hasn't done so well
- The moral arrogance of relativism
- The dilemma of being special in a world of special people
- Of burning closets and closed minds
- Is Internet making us stoopid commenters?
- To be, or not to be serious
- Stepping into greyer shades of grey
- Books and beliefs and other burning issues
- Talking of Hawking and thinking of God
- ‘You may be wrong for all I know, but you may be right’
- The unbearable triteness of best-selling BS
- The struggle for true freedom is with us more than ever
- It’s silly to take a penknife to a gunfight
- Tell me lies, tell me sweet little morally questionable falsehoods
- I think therefore I am … at least I think so
- First, do no harm
- All rights are equal – or should be
- Beauty and the beastly behaviour
- Afrighana versus United States of North America – a continental dilemma
- Of shoes and ships and sealing wax – the multiple tasks of multi-tasking
- Blow the vuvuzela and blow the cultural argument
- Roll up! Roll up! Welcome to the World Cup!
- Thought police, never a good thing
- The redemptive nature of offence
- Potholes or profits – the modern dilemma of corporate social responsibility
- Too many cows, too few tuna and too big an appetite
- Press freedom’s value is in our capacity to take part
- Of uncertainty and the opinions it spawns
- Just another brick in the wall
- Playing the authenticity card
- The dangers of tolerance
- ‘Twas Easter and the slithey toves did gyre and gimble on the roads
- Julius is The Man
- Beware the orthorexics as you chomp down on your boerie-roll
- Freedom of (Multi)choice
- Let's talk about our moral code