Sunday, 22 January 2012

Liberal MP and Democratic Green Socialists discuss tobacco issues

Two discussion threads this week that have been longer than expected. Stephen Williams MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health at Westminster blogged about a recent local campaign in support of plain packaging by Smoke Free South West. Simon Chapman and Cecilia Farren both pop in to support Mr Williams.

And natural health campaigner Heidi Stevenson wrote a piece on Democratic Green Socialist (DGS) about corporations benefiting from the marginalisation of smokers, with a focus on pharmaceutical companies. The inclusion of this article in DGS astonished some of its readers, whose concept of a big bad company seems to exempt Big Pharma from inclusion (the idea that they want to make money out of the nicotine market is dismissed as a conspiracy theory).  It is even suggested that Heidi Stevenson's interest in natural medicine is responsible for this unprovoked attack on (poor little) pharmaceutical companies – and of course (even though Heidi won't allow smoking in her own home) the piece fails because it doesn't unequivocally condemn tobacco.

Happily there are some more thoughtful and educated comments from followers of DGS. Indeed critical comment about the smoking ban from the left is rare (The Third Estate is an honourable exception). The 'heavy hand of the state' evident in smoking legislation leads people to associate smoking legislation with the left, but I prefer to see the worst of both left and right in smoking bans. There are many people  across the political spectrum who see the smoking ban legislation as very socially divisive, and recognise that it leaves the poor disproportionately affected at all levels.

Here it is good to see objective investigation of the left in relation to tobacco control, with recommendations for a more tolerant approach to tobacco users (extract from discussion below):
It’s clear that a number of people on this thread have done their homework on this subject and many impressive points have been made in the course of the discussion. A telling comment though is surprise expressed that there may be views amongst the progressive left that are distinctly intolerant. My recollection is that the orthodox view on tobacco control came originally from the right of the labour movement. 
In general terms socialism needs to redefine itself as something different from the authoritarian regimes of the former soviet block. The DGS has done some pioneering work in this direction by saying that there is such a thing as human nature and that human minds are not blank slates that can be arbitrarily forced in one direction or another by social engineering. [...]
However at the end of the day some people may just choose to smoke in the same way that others use lighted candles, strong synthetic perfume or air fresheners. Rather than joining in with an authoritarian and oppressive strategy, non-smoking socialists would be better to be supportive to their smoking sisters and brothers. There is enough real scientific information to enable people to make choices but the money behind the project has pushed it beyond the bounds of reason.
We have seen since the recent elections at Westminster that this is a cross-party issue, with Coalition leaders continuing to push tobacco control  (the consensus across Scottish politics in favour of tobacco control supports this view). There are people on all sides of politics who adopt a paternalistic and authoritarian attitude to public health – but likewise, there are people on all sides who wish to see 'dignity and equality for all'.

1 comment:

Pat Nurse MA said...

The DGS debate is certainly more intellectual than on Williams blog where abuse against smokers is accepted but abuse thrown back by smokers is deemed "offensive"