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First Step on Slippery Slide of Smoking Apartheid

18th March 2005
"Newman Online"
Weekly commentary by Dr Muriel Newman MP

Newman On-Line: First Step onto the Slippery Slide of Smoking Apartheid.

This week, Newman Online looks at how the Labour Government’s smokefree legislation has turned smokers into criminals and could be the first step onto the slippery slide of apartheid.

In 1783, Prime Minister William Pitt, told the UK Parliament: “Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the arguments of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves”.

There is no doubt that western democracies, built on free trade, individual liberty, private property rights, limited government and the rule of law, have been the most successful societies – for the majority of their citizens – in the history of the world. Fighting for our freedom and liberty was the driving force for young men like Maurice Haines and his two brothers Joe and Alfred, who went off to fight in the war.

While Maurice came home, his brothers did not. They lost their lives fighting to keep New Zealand a free society.

Maurice is now 83 years old and living in a rest home. He says he feels like a second-class citizen and claims that Muffin, the rest-home cat, is treated better than he and his mates. When Muffin is welcomed inside in the morning, Maurice and two other residents - his partners in crime - are kicked out.

The reason these three are ostracised is because they smoke. They are banished to an outside gazebo without walls to indulge in their three or four cigarettes a day. Maurice and his mates worry that once winter comes, they might die from the cold.

I don’t smoke, so I like smoke-free environments. But I have watched the assault on smokers with a growing unease.

First there was an increase in taxes on cigarettes, then the banning of smoking on airplanes and in hospitals. Now there is a ban almost everywhere, excluding, interestingly enough, housie halls and marae, but including bars, restaurants, clubs and workplaces, even if everyone who goes there is happy with smoking.

My foreboding is based on a sense that discriminating against a group of fellow citizens just because they smoke, is morally wrong. Surely, it is no different to discriminating against people because of their race, gender, sexuality, or religion? Isn’t this the first step onto the slippery slide of apartheid?

The Labour Party has claimed they supported anti-smoking laws in order to keep workers safe from the detrimental effects of passive smoking. Yet surely, if the owners of establishments, workers and customers are all happy with smoking, shouldn’t there be a free choice? Why can’t we maintain a foundation concept of our cherished Kiwi society – live and let live?

As Robert A. Levy, a fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute put it: “the owner of a property should be able to determine – for good reasons, bad reasons, or no reasons at all – whether to admit smokers, non-smokers, neither or both. Customers or employers who object may go elsewhere. They would not be relinquishing any right they ever possessed. By contrast, when a businessman is forced to effect an unwanted smoking policy on his own property, the Government violates his rights.”

Hasn’t the situation that has been foisted upon us, been caused by a busybody government going too far?

But the Labour Party is in danger of having caused a much deeper rift in our society than simply violating the property rights of establishment owners and the free choice of citizens. Again, as Robert Levy explains: “in a restaurant, a non-smoker who wants to escape unwelcome tobacco fumes can move to the non-smoking section. If the air is still not sufficiently pure, he can shop or work at another establishment. Mostly customers rely on common courtesy and mutual respect in adjusting to the different surroundings. But nosy, intrusive government has exacerbated the problem. As a result, venom has replaced respect and obstinate behaviour has replaced common courtesy. It is government, not secondhand smoke that has poisoned the atmosphere.”

Indeed, the Labour Party’s politically correct smoking ban, demonstrates unrestrained government at its worst: under the guise of safety and health, it has violated the property rights of small business owners and operators, it has introduced a form of apartheid that marginalises citizens into feeling and being treated like outcasts in their own country and it has pitted one group of New Zealanders against another in a mean-spirited and vicious way.

The drawing out of the parliamentary ballot of my private members bill, “Smoke-Free Environments (Exemptions) Bill,” last week, signals a new chapter in this debate. I will be asking New Zealanders whether the anti-business Labour Party has pushed their ideology too far.

My bill seeks to restore property rights to private clubs and other organisations that are only open to members and guests, to determine whether they want to remain smoke-free or not. It further provides organisations, which are open to the public, an opportunity to make that same determination if their employees agree.

A key point to remember with this issue is that the situation regarding smoking is very different from other regulations affecting the health and safety of customers and staff. The reality is that the risk of smoke is plain for all to see and if people don’t like it they are free to go elsewhere.

The smoking ban has had serious effects on many establishments. Patronage is reported to be down across the board, profitability has been seriously eroded, staff hours have been cut and social problems are escalating: smokers wanting to smoke have to go outside, in some cases crowding out pedestrians on the footpaths. Many – particularly women - are guzzling their drinks before they go out rather than risking leaving them at the mercy of drink-spiking predators. All of these problems have surfaced and it’s not even winter. As Maurice Haines has warned, that’s when the problems of inadequate shelter for smokers will properly kick in.

I believe it’s time to restore some balance into the law. If you support this view, please register your interest through the website. I suspect, given the viciousness of the last debate, I will need all of the help I can get!


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