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Smoking’s no different: mind that (power) gap

by DonaldS     November 7, 2007 at 2:25 pm

Blackpool, Blackpool, everywhere, nor any drop to… This time, drinking over here, Hamish Howitt, pub landlord:

“I’m not pro-smoking just pro-freedom. “Having a pint and a cigarette in a pub is one of the last great enjoyments left for the working classes. “

You have to like the cut of his mainsail. It makes you wish he was right, but alas he’s 180 degrees wrong. Calls to liberty – working class or otherwise – are spurious on this one. As much as hard hats on a building site, or breathing apparatus down a mine, smoking legislation is about workplace safety. I suppose any staff who object to a pub pea souper could always work somewhere else. Your average Victorian mill owner would have agreed.

Tell that to the student working off his overdraft, or the single mum who needs employment that fits round school hours, or the 50-something asthmatic roadie who’s plain forgotten how to do anything else. Or any number of other constructs a hack-philosopher might invent. Can any of these make a meaningful choice, a free weighing of the alternatives, before selecting their place and conditions of work? That we don’t always have a real choice is a cornerstone of left thought; it’s all about the power, stupid. Asking: “Who has it; who doesn’t; how does that change things” is what separates liberals from the ‘I want, I want, it’s soooo unfair’ breed of prep-school ‘libertarians’. (That’s a misnomer, of course; these chaps are nowhere near as concerned about liberty as they are about property.)

In any case, there’s nothing special about private property that gets us off our obligations to each other. This is no more a case of liberty at threat than are the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002. You’re not allowed to poison your staff, not even minimum-wage workers. There’s an easy, costless way to internalize your externality: get off your backside, take three paces to the door and smoke outside. You could use the exercise.

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