Anton Kelly
Anton Kelly

The Nicotine-Nazis Are Coming

On March 18, Parliament's health select committee recommended a complete ban on smoking inside all indoor workplaces. In its current form, the Smoke-free Environments (Enhanced Protection) Bill will declare all bars, pubs, cafes, restaurants, casinos and RSAs smoke-free zones. Smokers, prepare for a good frisking. The nicotine-nazis are coming.

We kiwis are used to politicians telling us what to do with our lives and property but this recommendation takes governmental interference to new levels. Anyone who values freedom should be outraged.

This bill follows in the footsteps of overseas legislation, and it has become more draconian as it has evolved. Bar and restaurant owners were originally going to have to provide smoke-free areas for staff and patrons by installing ventilation systems, but at least casinos and RSAs were to be exempt. Then the committee decided that ventilation would be too expensive and provide inadequate protection for employees. A total ban is now seen as the best solution.

Committee chairwoman Steve Chadwick said the proposed ban was all about education and socialised change, not enforcement. "I think the committee has done a very good job," she said. "We heard across the board from all views ... this bill is a very good reflection of that work." If 'all views' were considered, it's obvious that the committee couldn't give a toss about the views of the hospitality industry.

Predictably, the committee's announcement was greeted with squeals of delight. Green MP Sue Kedgley called it "a wonderful day for public health." Associate Health Minister Damien O'Connor said the three out of four New Zealanders who choose not to smoke would now be able to enjoy 100 per cent smoke-free air when they went out. The Public Health Association called it "a courageous move that would save lives." ASH called it "a victory for non-smokers."

ASH also said the proposal would be "good for business." Hospitality industry owners disagreed. It seems investors also disagreed - Sky City Entertainment shares lost 5% of their value the day after the announcement, and another 5% over the next two weeks.

Considering the high stakes involved, the general public's reaction to the proposal was almost non-existent. Perhaps they were preoccupied with the Iraq invasion, but kiwis really are an apathetic bunch. One bar patron said if the government wanted non-smoking bars, "they should just partition them off." Another patron said he didn't smoke so it didn't bother him. There were a few quiet protests from bar and restaurant owners – some of them mumbled something about their rights being infringed.

Given the widespread misinterpretation of the concept of 'rights', it was inevitable that bogus rights would be attributed to workers, non-smokers and smokers by those both for and against the proposal. "Hospitality workers have a right to a safe workplace," said the Service and Food Workers Union. "The dangers of smoking, whether active or passive, are well documented and leave no doubt that non-smokers' rights must be met," said a New Zealand Herald editorial. "People have a right to smoke at the pub," said one of my workmates.

'Rights' are indeed at the centre of this issue, but not in the way these people think. In her essay 'Man's Rights,' Rand called a 'right' "a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right: a man's right to his own life. ...[This] is the source of all rights – and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible." Because a man must think and act in order to live, he needs to be free to do so. And if his life is to truly be his own, he needs to be free to keep, use and dispose of the product of his action as he sees fit. Thus, in a truly free society, property rights are vital.

It's not surprising that the bulk of this bill's support is from the Greens and Labour. Socialists don't believe in property rights – they believe all property should be state-owned. However, despite the best efforts of successive governments, some semblance of property rights still remains in this country. Our politicians need to realise that the term 'public bar' doesn't mean the bar is government-owned in the same way that the term 'public hospital' means the hospital is government-owned. The bars and restaurants in which this ban will apply are private property.

"Non-smokers are entitled to clean air wherever they are," said a letter in the Herald. Nonsense. Non–smokers are not entitled to clean air if they are on a property where the owner lets people smoke. It's the owner's property, and it's his right to say what activities may or may not take place on that property. Imposing a smoking ban on a pub or restaurant against the owner's will is a blatant violation of his property rights.

It's important to remember that non-smoking workers and patrons don't have to enter smoky bars and restaurants if they don't want to. Supporters of the ban dismiss this point too easily, but quite simply, if workers want to work in clean air, they are free to seek employment elsewhere. Equally, if non-smokers want to breathe clean air, they are free to go elsewhere or stay at home.

Politicians will tell you the proposed ban is justified because of the burden placed on the public health system by smoking-related illnesses. I disagree. The government's error in getting involved in health services in the first place doesn't justify this. Besides, even if the government wasn't involved in health services, it would probably still want to stop people smoking 'for their own good' - politicians are incurable busy-bodies.

It's inevitable that this bill will be passed into law, but that doesn't mean it's just. If any of you smokers out there see me in a pub, feel free to light up next to me, assuming it's okay with the owner of course. I won't be calling the nicotine-nazis on you.

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