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Friday, April 19, 2024
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HomeCulture WarWill the state manipulators stop at a smoking ban?

Will the state manipulators stop at a smoking ban?

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RISHI Sunak has announced plans to ban smoking in the UK by raising the legal age to buy cigarettes by yearly increments. The ‘generational phase-out’ would mean someone now aged 14 would never be able to buy a cigarette legally.

This raises interesting issues around our right to choose how and what we consume and whether governments, corporations, and scientific bodies have the right to intervene in making or curtailing those choices for us. It is interesting that it dovetails with the planned transition to a ‘stakeholder economy’ (a central idea of Schwab’s Great Reset) where citizens, institutions and businesses will be assessed, audited, and legally instructed in accordance with the requirements of Environmental and Social Governance (ESG).

Governments have always used policies and initiatives as ways of engineering certain societal outcomes, both in the UK and more widely. However, the application of taxation, tariffs, and subsidies to make products, services, or practices either more or less desirable to consumers has gained in popularity over the last three decades, since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. As the environment, health and wellbeing, and social equity rights have built in momentum, this agenda has now directly challenged the idea of ‘consumer sovereignty’ and free-market ideology in favour of greater regulation. Commentators such as Tim Jackson in his 2009 book Prosperity Without Growth stress that there are high prices, or ‘externalities’, to be paid in a society which prioritises limitless economic growth. For Jackson, a great many of the choices made since global deregulation of markets since the early 1980s are severely affecting the planet’s carrying capacity. He reasons that both resource depletion and environmental impacts are ‘negative externalities’ – hidden costs which are not incorporated into the economic transactions of goods and services. 

Others take this argument further to suggest the resources that people choose to consume are the problem. The sociologist Anthony Giddens points out that many of the trends in modern health issues are directly linked to poorer diets and in continuing habits such as smoking, drinking and drug use. Giddens reasons that people have greater knowledge on the scientific links between smoking and cancer, diet and health issues such as obesity and diabetes, yet often take the wrong options. Smoking is an example of a choice made by individuals most of whom are aware that it can affect both themselves and others – potentially hitting the economy and the NHS. Robert Crocker, a lecturer in sustainable design, has termed this an example of where consumption goes ‘from access to excess’.

Choice-editing of negative externalities became part of a suite of policies developed in the wake of the Rio Earth Summit, when countries were subsequently encouraged to develop their own policies within the UN sustainability framework. The EU developed a range of choice-editing policies during the 1990s, when the Single Market enabled a high degree of harmonisation of trade within member states. Defined by the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission as ‘shifting the field of choice for mainstream consumers: cutting out unnecessarily damaging products and getting real sustainable choices on the shelves’, the concept of choice-editing began to emerge in markets more widely than the EU, particularly around energy appliances. The EU, and many other countries, were successful in phasing out incandescent light bulbs and replacing them with compact fluorescent and LED lamps. The updating of EU product specifications also included environmental standards, such as those on washing machines and dishwashers which were given ratings (eg A+, A++, A+++) as a way of informing consumers about the energy efficiency status of those products. The idea was to take the most energy-inefficient products off the market which would save consumers money and, theoretically, save the planet.   

There is a good argument to suggest that removing the option of smoking might be a good thing. After all, Dr Javid Khan has made the point that the overall cost to the UK through smoking is about £17billion – £2.4billion to the NHS alone. There is now a media campaign around the dangers of vaping, so this could be the next target for politicians. But where will it end? In how many more areas of life do the government intend to intervene? Is the science emerging from the UN on all these areas where freedoms are being curtailed to be trusted? What about other areas which are clearly of concern where they are not intervening? 

For instance, how about the long-term effects of GM foods? What about the vaccine rollout which is clearly causing a great many health problems? There is no political debate on this at all so far. What about the lack of risk assessments around ‘more sustainable’ options currently being touted such as the safety of smart meters (and the objectives of them) and the possible fire hazards from electric cars? Is the government itself to be trusted to make these kinds of decisions without the risk of psychological biases it may have or, perhaps more pertinently, any conflicts of interest with the corporate world or the various think tanks which are pushing the science of sustainability and planetary wellbeing? 

The government seems to be very good at avoiding its own advice on these matters, as evidenced by the clear disdain for health and wellbeing in the middle of a pandemic, so can we truly trust that the kinds of policies it is promoting are in our best interests? 

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Dr Shane Fudge
Dr Shane Fudge
Dr Shane Fudge has been an academic in the field of environment for 20 years.

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