Saturday, 16 February 2008

License To Ill

Requiring smokers to pay £10 and get a GP's signature for a license to purchase tobacco is among new anti-smoking measures being considered by the Department of Health (Link).

The adviser responsible for proposing this policy calls it 'libertarian paternalism'. If you agree that that's an oxymoron if there ever was one (what next? Libertarian Fascism?) you should go and read (actual) libertarian Devil's Kitchen's take on the matter (Link, sweary).

As you might expect, the bloggers who are most outraged are smokers. I'm not a smoker, but I agree with them that this stinks. It's a cast-iron example of the kind of authoritarian thinking that infects this Government. And as an anonymous commenter on the above-linked post puts it, "This is just the sort of cr*p which delegitimizes the State in they eyes of the populace...the State is running amok; it has lost all pretence to being the servant of the People". It makes defending public healthcare rather challenging, because the alternative is increasingly being painted as entailing ever-increasing paternalistic coercion in the name of decreasing NHS costs. Perhaps this is deliberate, who knows? Like a lot of policies this Government comes up with it's difficult to work out what the hell they could be thinking.

In terms of indefensibility, this is in a different league to the ban on smoking in pubs - with this there was at least the justification of the protection of workers' health (TUC). There is no such argument to back this up, just a straight down the line attempt to make it as difficult as possible for people to be smokers. Not content with making people apply for the licenses, provide a photo ID and pay £10, Le Grand suggests that the forms 'be made sufficiently complex' to prevent some people obtaining a licence.

Another article on the Le Grand paper adds a further detail that adds another level of absurdity to the proposal. According to the Times, people applying for 'smoking permits' could "...have to get a declaration signed by their GP that their health was not at "massive risk" from their habit before the licence was issued.". I guess the number of hours of GP-time that this would waste wasn't a consideration.

Nor, it seems, were even the most basic considerations of economics. For if tobacco smokers are putting too much strain on the NHS as a result of their smoking-related illnesses, why not, er, put tax on tobacco up so it covers the shortfall? But no, that would be too sensible for this set of control freaks. Instead, New Labour is considering setting up a whole new branch of the civil service at goodness knows what expense, processing yet more forms and putting yet more personal details on yet more little pieces of plastic. But no, it seems it's not about money, it's for our own good. Seldom has that famous piece of wisdom from C.S Lewis (I used to use part of this as QT's banner quote) been more apposite:

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

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