At 6am on Sunday 1 July 2007 virtually all enclosed public
places and workplaces in England will become smoke free by law. I already have
a list of all the pubs I want to visit on the first day – perhaps I might even
go nightclubbing to ‘bring in’ the ban!
But, as socialists, should we be applauding such state
interference in our lives? John Reid famously said, "I just do not think the
worst problem on our sink estates by any means is smoking, but it is an
obsession of the learned middle class… what enjoyment does a 21-year-old single
mother of three living in a council sink estate get? The only enjoyment
sometimes they have is to have a cigarette." By supporting a smoking ban are we
no better than the New Labour leadership who constantly patronise and blame
working class people for the ills of capitalist society? Or should we go
further and follow the lead of Bhutan, where the sale and use of tobacco is
In the UK, smoking kills around 114,000 people each year –
including about 42,800 from smoking-related cancers, 30,600 from cardiovascular
disease and 29,100 who die slowly from emphysema and other chronic lung
diseases. Of these 300 people who die every day from smoking, many are
comparatively young smokers. Staggeringly, the number of people under the age
of 70 who die from smoking-related diseases exceeds the figure for deaths
caused by breast cancer, AIDS, traffic accidents and drug addiction put together.
Research has shown that each cigarette shortens a smoker’s
life by around 11 minutes. Add this to the fact that although life expectancy
in the UK has increased, working class people on average die younger. For
example, if you live in Glasgow you can expect to live 10 years less than if
you lived in Kensington and Chelsea. Shouldn’t we be at the forefront of
ensuring that working people live long and healthy lives?
One argument against a smoking ban is that it goes against
an individual’s personal freedom because everyone should have the right to do
what they like with their life. However, there are two problems with this.
Firstly, we live in a capitalist society where big business dictates what we as
individuals can and cannot do. So, in reality, we have only limited personal
freedoms. Does this mean, therefore, that under a socialist society everyone
would be free to smoke whatever they want, wherever they want? Perhaps not.
This takes me to the second point – under both capitalism and socialism we don’t
live alone. Most of us live and work amongst other people; friends, family,
fellow workers and fellow students. Our lives are inextricably intertwined with
the lives of others. Smoking in public places exposes us to poisonous fumes.
Cigarettes contain more than 4000 chemical compounds and at least 400 toxic
substances. The USA Environmental Protection Agency has classified
environmental tobacco smoke as a class A carcinogen along with asbestos,
arsenic, benzene and radon gas.
It is now considered that the passive smoke (‘side-stream’)
that comes off a cigarette between puffs carries a higher risk than directly
inhaled smoke. Passive smokers suffer an increased risk of a range of
smoking-related diseases. At work, exposure to second hand smoke is estimated
to cause the death of more than 600 workers a year, including 54 deaths a year
in the hospitality industry. This equates to about 1/5 of all deaths from
second hand smoke in the general population and up to ½ of all deaths in the
Domestic exposure to second hand smoke in the UK causes
around 10,700 deaths a year. Non-smokers who are exposed to passive smoking in
the home have a 25% increased risk of heart disease and lung cancer. Children
who grow up in a home where one or both parents smoke have twice the risk of
getting asthma, asthmatic bronchitis and allergies. More than 17,000 children
under the age of five are admitted to hospital every year because of the
effects of passive smoking. Surely we should be protecting workers and children
from these damaging effects?