I attended a thought-provoking debate last night: CIVIL LIBERTIES: UP IN SMOKE. Many thanks to all involved.
Here are some of the thoughts it provoked in me – also posted as a comment on Facebook:
I absolutely agree with Peter [Hitchens] that there is no point whatsoever having laws that are unenforced. I see this as very good reason to pass/have fewer laws, full stop – but think also the (level of) penalties determined by a law permits people to determine the (dis)proportionality of the state’s reaction to the purported ‘offence’.
WRT smoking, while many might say it is or find it ‘unpleasant’ or unhealthy (as it clearly is) – or in Peter’s framework ‘irresponsible’ – I am not sure than many would consider the act/habit itself warrants, say, imprisonment. It might indeed take only a few high-profile smoking ‘martyrs’ to shift the dynamic, should things come to that…
I disgree with Peter’s position, and actually the position from which some of the other speakers appeared to be arguing, WRT the family and ‘freedom of choice’.
I think the situation is more complex than either Peter or some others allowed: responsible adults (and one must always allow that many people sometimes act irresponsibly or against their own short- or long-term interests) make complex, tentative/evolving decisions and modify their behaviour accordingly. ‘People’ are neither robots, nor – in the main part – idiots!
I believe it is neither the place of the state to intrude upon those decisions within the family unless there is actual harm or demonstrable risk of harm nor is it the place of a parent to act utterly selfishly and without consideration for others within the family. (I like to think, for example, that I would find it much easier to give up smoking if asked to do so by one of my sons, with whom I try to talk and behave as freely and openly as I can.)
Peter’s tragic anecdote of a family friend’s son who ruined himself by smoking (I assume heavily THC-laden) cannabis at an early age missed the crucial point that it precisely is the place of the parent(s) to be able to have the conversations and – if necessary – ‘restrain’ their children’s behaviour if they consider them to be harming themselves while still young.
To assume that the state should, much less can, ‘step in’ where you as parents (or friends of parents) can or have not is both an abrogation of responsibility and an admission of defeat. That it is also wildly over-optimistic is evidenced by the appalling performance of the state care system – which appears to work only when and where good people try to do and be good to other (young) people…