I don’t smoke. As it happens, I don’t think you should, either, if you do. Watching those huddled groups of furtive smokers at the back of my office, I have to confess that my unguarded, but instinctive, response is one of contempt. “Get a grip of your life!” I want to shout. “How can you allow yourself to be obliged by your frankly disgusting habit to shiver in the icy blast ripping through this grim bus-shelter-like affair? Have you no pride?” I don’t, of course, partly because I’m far too polite, and partly because I recognise that it’s none of my damned business.
But I confess to these unworthy emotions in order to make it crystal clear that I hold no brief for smoking. I do, from time to time, enjoy a nice cigar on a sunny afternoon in my back garden, but as for a 20-a-day fag habit, I really can’t be sympathetic. So I cannot be accused of special pleading. But whereas I do recognise that it’s none of my damned business if some of my comrades have decided to behave with a cheery and ill-advised disregard for their personal health, the British Medical Association signally fails to do the same.
It wishes to ban, under pain of breaking the law, anyone from smoking in their own car. This is because, they claim, that smoking in a car creates a 23-fold increase in the noxiousness of the air within it compared with that in a smoky bar. At the very least they must be judging that from memory since smoky bars are already banned, but we’ll let that pass. How reassuringly precise seems that 23 times multiplier. It must be scientific. Well, that’s the kind of “scientific” claim that lets them down, the public down, and indeed everybody down. The best that can be said is that smoking in a confined space increases the concentration of toxins in the air. I think I could probably have worked that out for myself since it is blindingly obvious.
But the argument with the BMA is not at root an argument about the science that they quote. Even if they were not grossly simplifying for effect, and their faux-precision were correct, they would still be wrong to call for this ban. If I eat a disgusting McDonald’s quadruple hamburger with added plastic cheese in my car, I am not only offending against taste and decency, but I am also endangering my health. Am I to be banned from doing so? If I buy a bag of barley sugars, and consume them in my car, am I to be hauled before the beak because of the damage I’ve done to my dental health?
There is an infinity of choice before me if I want to cause myself damage. The fact that I might decide to cause that damage to myself in my car hardly seems a relevant consideration. The BMA need to stop lecturing us on how to behave. They are right to point out, in as much graphic detail as they wish, the consequences of this, that, or the other dangerous personal habit. And then they need to shut up. I’m an adult, and I’m perfectly capable of making such decisions for myself.