An editor at Spiked recently reflected on the British smoking ban, wondering why, a year after its coming into force, there has been so little principled outcry against it. "… perhaps the most shocking thing of all – is that in the year since it was enforced liberty campaigners have, by and large, ignored it," he writes.
They have launched pitched battles over how long someone can be detained without charge or the finer points of the Human Rights Act, but they seem incapable of seeing the smoking ban as illiberal or people’s daily choices as a freedom issue. Our legal freedoms are important, of course, as spiked has made clear in its 10-point action plan to defend democratic rights: Slash 42 Days to 24 Hours. Any attack on our fundamental legal rights is an attack on all of us, weakening individual sovereignty and strengthening the illiberal culture. Yet not every freedom can be written down as a ‘right’ to be defended by lawyers; it is also important to stand up for a culture of freedom, and for the ability of people to make personal choices in their everyday lives. The smoking ban is also an attack on us all – smokers and non-smokers alike – because it further legitimises the contemporary authoritarian outlook and strengthens the state’s hand to intervene in our most intimate lives."
Why haven’t people recognized smoking bans as a threat to "the culture of freedom"? Well, perhaps many of them have. The problem today is that the culture of freedom is under such a sustained multi-national attack — unlike anything the babyboomers have seen in their lifetimes — and in matters both large and small, that the smoking issue has become just one of so very many facing us. There are so many fronts to this war that contemplating them all, let alone fighting them, is exhausting and bewildering for people. Look at what is happening: cover-ups of state torture, sweeping new governmental powers, the marching electronic invasion of privacy in both the public and private sectors, the strip-searching of 13-year-old girls to be sure they’re not hiding over-the-counter menstrual pain relief drugs against school policy (those specifics are from a case recently before US courts), the erosion or erasure of age-old habeus corpus protections, attacks on reproductive freedom, ubiquitous cameras in the streets, moves to police the diet of citizens, attacks on freedom of speech.
The basic issue is simple: the generation coming of age now will have to decide whether or not they will be contemptible sociopathic technoslaves, or three-dimensional human beings with a grounding in the great liberal-democratic tradition.