Yesterday’s Sunday Times carries a story that Labour, if they got into power, would start a process which would see people fined £200 for smoking in a car while transporting kids under 16.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think there is any excuse for exposing kids to the deeply unpleasant cocktail of poisons and carcinogens that cigarette smoke contains. And, yes, I do judge people who smoke at all when children are around whether during pregnancy, in their own home, or whatever. I am not anti-smoking as such. I used to smoke 40 a day and thoroughly enjoyed every single one of them. However, a positive pregnancy test changed all of that and I literally never had another cigarette after seeing it. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I’d harmed my baby. If I, who loved my cigarettes so much, could give up, anyone can. There are some ex smokers who get all evangelical about it, denouncing smoking and everything to do with it. I’m a bit like that where smoking around kids is concerned, but I don’t mind hanging around with smokers outside and if the truth be told, I quite enjoy the smell.
Labour’s plans show their instinctive authoritarianism – faced with a problem, they will always choose to legislate and ban rather than educate and not care about the implications for personal freedom along the way. I think that the smoking ban introduced in 2006 by the Liberal Democrat/Labour coalition is one of the best pieces of legislation ever, because it strikes the right balance between freedom to smoke, and freedom to breathe air free from the poisons in cigarette smoke. That covers public space, though. What about private space? If we ban smoking in cars, surely there’s an argument to ban it in houses? And alcohol is harmful too – we know about the effects of growing up with parents who abuse alcohol. Do we ban drinking in a house where there are under 18s? What about obesity? Do we give the state the right to go through people’s food cupboards and fine per chocolate bar or crisp packet because obesity is such a problem and is going to cost us a fortune in the future? If the issue is with the proven risks of cigarette smoke in a very confined space, you don’t get much more confined than a womb. Do we ban smoking in pregnancy? Even if we thought that was a good idea, which I don’t, how on earth do you enforce that?
There comes a point when the state has to recognise that it can’t do everything. Smoking in cars when you’re taking your kid to school when the evidence exists that this causes harm is an inconsiderate, horrible thing to do that will probably affect their future health.
There’s all sorts of things parents do, though, which store up future problems for their children. That’s why poet Philip Larkin famously said “They f*** you up, your mum and dad.” Evidence suggests that the regime orientated parenting methods such as leaving babies to cry and trying to regulate their instinctive behaviour can cause much more harm than good for future mental wellbeing. We have a situation where 1 in 4 adults will have mental health problems at some point in their lives. Do we ban these methods in the hope of improving mental health? I can imagine the outcry if a Government tried.
What I think would me more helpful, though, is an attempt by Governments and politicians to put the needs of children front and centre, to try to change the culture to make us a much more child friendly place. We don’t actually seem to like kids very much here – we ghettoise them, try to confine them to soft play areas so that adults can get on with their own socialising. Then we complain when they hang around with each other as teenagers. Maybe we should be thinking about how we can best integrate them into our lives and accept and enjoy them in every environment. Then it might not be so easy to dismiss the effects on them of lighting up in a small metal box.
There are some boundaries it’s just not appropriate for the state to cross and, as usual, Labour with these plans are, as usual, on the wrong side of that boundary as far as I am concerned.