Youngers should not smoke, but sixteen-year-olds should make that decision for themselves.
I am a strong supporter of the prohibition of smoking in public enclosed spaces across Britain and Ireland. It seems obvious to me that nobody has a right to pollute my air; and workers have the right to a smoke-free environment at their place of work. The law commands overwhelming public support, and it is one of the few things the New Labour Parliaments have got right.
Today under secondary legislation brought about by the same act and new law came into force across Britain rising the minimum age for the purchase of cigarettes from sixteen to eighteen. Now of course I believe that it is unwise for young people to smoke, but I disagree with the new law for several reasons.
First, young people who are sixteen and seventeen have a right to decide whether they want to smoke or not. The whole point of freedom and moving along the road to full adulthood is the acquisition of choice with regard to one’s own life and well-being – not having that freedom taken away as this law undoubtedly does.
Second, smoking is a vicious addictive drug. Tell an addicted forty-five year olds that they must now stop smoking and the cry would be simple, ‘Well even if I want to, I can’t.’ Most people accept this, but why should it be different for a seventeen year old who is perhaps going through one of the most stressful periods of his or her life?
And that takes me to my third point. Young people who want to smoke will continue to smoke, and the law will be by-passed by crooked corner-shops and by intermediaries re-selling cigarettes. One question that should always be asked about a new law is: can it be meaningfully enforced. If the answer is no, don’t introduce it.
This law fits easily into the pattern of New Labour legislating merely for its ‘spin effect.’ And at the moment we are going through a period where ‘clamping down’ on the young is the fashion of the day.