Smoke Free, or Free to Smoke?

Tuesday, 25 February, 2014

Words by Matthew Lesh
Infographic by Kevin Hawkins

Young and innocent, we enter Australia’s number one university as fools who are easily manipulated by Big Tobacco to begin smoking, only to die soon afterwards of cancer. Luckily, part-time Vice-Chancellor and part-time nanny Glyn Davis is out to save us from big tobacco—and ourselves—by banning smoking on campus this year.

This ban, supported by the ever-watchful and growing army of public health ‘experts’, reflects a whole new world of manipulation and control over individuals.

Rob Moodie, a so-called public health expert, explains in the official press release announcing the ban that “the university’s younger students are also most susceptible to developing potentially harmful smoking habits”.

Well, yes, smoking is harmful. However, plenty of habits are potentially harmful—alcohol, partying, or even walking in the street. But is potential harm to oneself enough to ban these activities for all? Of course not.

Every smoker makes their own decision to purchase cigarettes, based on the high monetary expense, the well-known health impact, and their personal benefit. In a liberal society, smokers’ decision to light up and potentially harm themselves is their choice—not yours, or mine, or Glyn Davis’ or Rob Moodie’s.

In the case of tobacco, a popular rebuttal to this principle is the claimed grievous harm of second-hand smoke. This argument is preposterously weak considering the already limited places one could smoke on campus—only outside and at least six metres away from buildings—and the simple ability to walk away from the few who do smoke. In practice, one would have to actively aim to inhale tobacco smoke for hours every day for second-hand smoke to be dangerous. Just because something is mildly uncomfortable for some does not mean it should be banned for others.

Moreover, this ban reflects the attempts of so-called public health experts to be faux demi-gods of good and evil behaviour.

Wearing shiny suits and spurred by countless Today Tonight and A Current Affair appearances, the experts tell us we must make alcohol more expensive because young people are drinking too much. They tell us we must put taxes and plain packaging on fast food and soft drinks because people are getting fat. They tell us we must ban solariums because some people misuse them.

The experts, driven by the misguided idea that they know best, seek to dictate our lives. The Bolshevist-era apparatchiks could only dream of such a socially acceptable level of control over individual behaviour, and yet we have allowed these people to sweep into the mainstream dialogue.

Central to the arguments put forward by these experts is the authoritarian idea that individuals are not trustworthy or intelligent enough to be free—that preposterous idea that we don’t understand the harm we are causing ourselves when drinking, eating fast food or lying in a solarium.

I have never had a cigarette in my life, I dislike fast food and, despite my pasty, white skin, I have not been to a solarium.

But I fight against proposed policy changes because I want to live in a society where individuals are free to maximise their own happiness without being restricted and controlled. I do not want to live in a society where it is acceptable to manipulate individual behaviour because it is “potentially harmful”.