Australian Politics & Current Affairs
By Nick Kenny
20 years ago, Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, and Sandra Bullock set a new low for Hollywood mediocrity with Demolition Man. The film depicts a dystopian future, in which tobacco, alcohol, red meat, salt, sexual activity, and foul language had been outlawed, all in favour of a nanny state, ridiculously obsessed with public health. The film itself was appalling – but the prophecy is upon us…
A week ago, I cast the spotlight on the latest weapons in the prohibitionist arsenal. The “second-class citizen” status has paved a smooth road for some seriously questionable laws. Council bans on any outdoor smoking, $14 tax per packet, and the “pioneering” move to coat every packet in the same colour. Because if the impending threat of cancer doesn’t convince you to quit, then surely “olive green” will.
Some councils have actually begun implementing smoking bans throughout entire apartment complexes. Yes, grown adults are now being prohibited by law from smoking in the privacy of their own homes, inside or out. These are measurements of a government stepping well beyond its legitimate bounds, swinging blind haymakers at anything that smells like nicotine. In our state of panic, we have let the beast off the leash.
After the rational ideas have been exhausted, and the bottom of the barrel has truly been scraped, we now enter into an era of a strict, health-obsessed paternalism, one that is unmatched in human history. We have set foot into troubling terrain – the excessive abuse of power by the state, bent on intruding into people’s personal lives, and imposing a narrow vision of an “ideal” lifestyle upon them.
You may argue that tobacco, the insidious killer that it is, is deserving of this onslaught. You may argue that the ends justify the means. You may argue that the 83% of non-smokers far outweigh the minority, and democracy has spoken. This is a dangerous argument. We are setting a precedent. By trampling the rights of smokers, we are establishing the government as the arbitrator of acceptable behaviour.
From here, any activity is fair game, and any law restricting private activities can be justified, so long as it is wrapped in “public health” language. The descent has already begun – the “binge-drinking culture” and the “obesity epidemic” are two of the latest catch-phrases being tossed around to justify draconian laws.
Life involves risk, at every turn. After an upbringing drenched in “anti-everything” education, we understand these risks. We fund a solid universal healthcare scheme to accommodate them, and we carry on with our lives.
The habits of smokers may disgust you. So don’t smoke. But if you give the government free reign to control your neighbour’s life, sooner or later it will be controlling yours also. And once this control is established, it’s tougher to kick than every sinful indulgence combined.