Monday, 10 February 2014

The smoking gun

The House of Commons is to debate today on whether or not to ban smoking in cars carrying children.  Their Lordships in the upper House have already indicated that they view the proposal favourably and it seems highly likely that this will be passed into law.  But I have reservations.  No, it's more than that; I think this would be a bad law.

It's not that I think smoking in a car in which children are being carried is a good thing, it's just that I cannot see how such a law could be enforced.  And haven't I heard it said that an unenforceable law is a bad law?  That said, a proponent of a ban is quoted in today's newspaper as saying that similar laws are enforced successfully in Australia and Canada.  She didn't say, or the paper failed to continue the quote, just how the law is successfully enforced in those countries.  I have visions of policemen at road junctions, especially where there are traffic lights, peering into cars to see if anyone is smoking and if there are children in the car.  But what about those roads in the country, or the long stretches of main roads and motorways, where there are no traffic lights and cars travel too fast for snoopers to check them?  Without low level cameras aimed at the interiors of passing cars, and the attendant army of people watching the films, there is no way that such a ban could be upheld.

My second reservation is that if this proposed ban does become law, it just extends the way the state is exerting control over so many aspects of our lives.  There are already, in my opinion, too many "nanny knows best" laws.  I don't call myself a libertarian, but I do think we should be allowed a modicum of discretion over how we live our lives.  How long, I wonder, will it be before there are laws telling us what we may eat and on what days?  Do we really want to regress to the stage where the English government (under the rule of the Puritan Oliver Cromwell) banned mince pies?

I presume (or is that "assume"?) that if this does become law, there will be some clarification.  Would the proposed ban only apply to cars when there are children in them, or would it apply to any car that is used, however infrequently, to transport children?  If it is to apply only when children are actually in the car, then it is, I suggest, almost pointless.  What about the instance, for example, when a smoking driver spots a neighbour and her child walking home from school in the pouring rain.  The driver stubs out the cigarette to offer the neighbour a lift.  But isn't it a fact that the noxious vapours are still in the car?  On the other hand, if smoking is to be banned in any car that carries a child at any time, I will be unable to collect my granddaughter from school (on the infrequent occasions that I am asked to) because my wife smokes the occasional cigarette in the car as we drive down through France.

Yes, I know: my second and third reservations are just flippant.  But I still believe that an unenforceable law is a bad law - and this would, to all intents and purposes, be unenforceable.


Still in Falmer, this white building is, I believe, used as the village hall.  It dates from either 1837 or 1839 - I forget which.


The Broad said...

Excellent analysis of the conundrum such a law would/will present.

joeh said...

We have enough laws. Cars no longer have ash trays, or cigarette lighters. Spend a few bucks on PSA's to educate people, but stop with the laws.

My dad smoked in the car all the time. Most of the smoke went out the triangle-window we called a "cheater" and without air-conditioning I really do not remember the car getting all smoky.

Brighton Pensioner said...

"Excellent analysis"

Thank you kindly, madam.