The ban, introduced 10 years ago, was just the start of an assault on our everyday freedoms.
aturday is the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the Scottish smoking ban. The law, which came into effect on 26 March 2006, was the first to be introduced in the UK, with England, Wales and Northern Ireland joining in the fun in 2007. The ban was a watershed moment for anti-tobacco campaigners, who will no doubt be popping champagne corks to mark the anniversary. For the rest of us, smokers and non-smokers alike, it was a dark day for freedom.
The law means that it is an offence to smoke, or to permit smoking, in a place that is wholly or substantially enclosed, and which is either used as a workplace or is somewhere that the public or a section of the public has access to. No more smoking at work, even in a smoking room, not even out and about in the company van. Above all, no smoking in pubs – not even in private clubs where members could have been given a vote on whether to allow it, perhaps in separate smoking rooms.
The problem for anti-smoking campaigners had always been the harm principle – the idea that the state shouldn’t interfere if someone chooses to engage in an activity that is harmful only to themselves. By the turn of the century, there had been numerous measures to restrict cigarettes, particularly advertising bans, but actually banning smoking was still regarded as a big step. What was needed was some source of harm beyond smokers themselves. The solution was to invent one: passive smoking.
The law was justified by an avalanche of junk science. It was routinely stated, for example, that secondhand smoke increases the risk of lung cancer by about 25 per cent. However, as Christopher Snowdon has shown, the studies these claims were based on – assessing the risk to the non-smoking wives of smoking husbands – were of variable quality and outcome. As Snowdon says, even taking the biggest studies on their own, the results were little better than random, with some even suggesting a protective effect. The studies were in relation to smoking in the home – that is, in fairly small rooms, not the much larger, better-ventilated spaces typical of pubs.
The most appropriate conclusion to draw from these studies is that the risk from smoking in a pub or in a smoking room away from others is small – just like many other everyday risks. Richard Doll, one of the authors of the first study in the UK linking smoking to lung cancer, said in 2001: ‘The effects of other people smoking in my presence is so small it doesn’t worry me.’ Nonetheless, the threat from passive smoking soon became firmly established in public discussion. Any dissent – such as a large study published in the British Medical Journal in 2003 – was trashed and the authors accused of being little more than shills for Big Tobacco.