De zwaar bekritiseerde Schotse tabakswet is aangenomen. Tegen alle terechte argumenten in besloot het Schotse parlement deze week dat er een rigoureus rookverbod voor de horeca in dat deel van het Verenigd Koninkrijk zal gelden vanaf April 2006. Daarmee gaat Schotland stukken verder dan de plannen die in Londen gesmeed worden en zelfs verder dan de Ierse wet die als radicaal wordt gezien.
Een commentator op de Edinburgh News site analyseerde de redenen voor de koppigheid van de Schotse parlementsleden.
From April Fool’s Day next year there will be no smoking in pubs, restaurants, cafes, bingo halls, airport departure lounges – or even tobacconists!
Private members clubs, which can hardly be called public places, are included in the ban too.
And, in an example of cultural censorship that would embarrass the ancient Philistines (who were apparently quite cultured after all), even the portrayal of smoking on stage or in a TV studio will be banned.
It does sadden me just how unwilling the Scottish Parliament has been to take into account any of the arguments that unhelpfully refute the claims of government ministers.
For instance, no one has yet been able to explain how a Labour health minister in Edinburgh and a Labour minister in London can reach entirely opposite views about the threat posed by inhaling other people’s tobacco smoke. In Edinburgh the evidence that it kills people is considered conclusive, in London it is not.
The result is that the smoking ban in England will not be total, but partial; a proportional response that respects the rights of minorities.
No such tolerance is to be allowed in Scotland.
Then we had the Scottish Parliament’s Health Committee, which looked at the detail of the Bill, failing to understand there is a difference between medical evidence and statistical evidence. With legislators parading their ignorance like that, there was never any hope of reasoned or rational arguments being considered.
There is no medical evidence which shows passive smoking kills. Indeed, as we found out last month in a landmark ruling by Scottish judge Lord Nimmo Smith, the medical evidence that even direct smoking kills is not conclusive.
All we have is statistical evidence about the dangers of smoking, and while that may be generally accepted, the evidence surrounding passive smoking is hotly disputed by many learned scientists who don’t smoke and detest smoking.
The reason the facts were ignored is that the ban on smoking is not about the health risks from passive smoking but everything to do with government ministers needing an excuse to introduce a total ban. Their real aim, as was so often admitted by Health Minister Andy Kerr, is to de-normalise smoking – to stigmatise smokers so that people will give up.
So much then for the inclusive society we constantly here so many politicians bleat on about. You can be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, Catholic, Muslim, Protestant, heathen, black, white, yellow, pink, left-handed, limbless – all the rest you can think of – and there shall be no bigotry, discrimination or exclusion if you are.
Terrific, I can sign up to that and support an open society where such diversity is possible. Each to their own within the law, I say.
But if you happen to be a smoker – even if you are one of the aforementioned groups – then you are excluded.
You are to be stigmatised, “de-normalised” in the minister’s words. You will not be considered normal, your smoking will not be normal and it cannot be portrayed as normal.