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Cheers - AE

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Empty gesture politics

It's hard to defend Australia from charges of tobacco fascism from Pat Nurse when their latest move is to ban smoking on the beach - not littering fag ends in the sand, which I could understand, but simply the act of smoking - but I'm going to give it a brief go. It certainly sounds like it, and I'd agree the intent might even fit...
The new local law will affect the thousands of people who flock to the beaches, with those caught smoking facing fines of $200. It has been welcomed by Quit Victoria, which said public bans were critical in ''de-normalising'' smoking.
Oh, that de-normalising thing again. Yeah, maybe a bit more than "might". But I'd say that in reality this is the worst kind of gesture politics. The empty kind. Because this is not really a new ban but a local council with a bit of beach copying existing bans in other bayside council areas.
SMOKING is set to be banned on every Melbourne beach from Altona to Elwood, after Hobsons Bay Council became the third Victorian municipality to ban beachgoers from lighting up.
It is expected the new law will be in place before summer, with the council needing to prepare a community impact statement and accept submissions before it is voted on again.
The City of Port Phillip, which stretches from Port Melbourne to Elwood introduced similar laws along its beaches last summer, while the Surf Coast Shire banned smoking in 2008 in a Victorian first.
And we should be impressed? Wave the magic wand of a ban and the problem just vanishes in a puff of legislation, right? Do me a fucking favour. Port Philip Council still has to sift the sands of St Kilda beach at dawn every summer morning and even weekly this time of year for everything from cigarette butts and litter to used condoms and syringes. Syringes, for Christ's sake. And we're expected to think that Hobson's Bay is going to have some big crackdown on smokers when the ban comes in? Not a fucking chance. Did Port Philip? Did Surf Coast? Maybe, but I doubt it, and even if they did it wasn't for long. Come on, what chance is there that it'll be different in Hobson's Bay? And what chance it'll work even if they do? When has it not been illegal to shoot up on the beach? For-fucking-ever, and yet the syringes still end up on St Kilda beach for Port Philip to pick up every morning.

This is theatre, grandstanding, and come the elections late next year something for incumbent local pollies to point to as something they "did" for the community, conflating activity and accomplishment in that way politicians so often do. Yes, it's picking on a minority group too, but mostly it's bullshit, a sop to appeal to non-smoking yuppies in $750,000 McMansions within shouting distance of the beaches. Ban what ever the fuck you want, fellas, but if you don't have the resources to hire some tobacco gauleiters to patrol the beach all day and all night you're going to find, just like Port Philip have, that in a couple of years you'll still be hiring people to pick up cigarette butts and whatever shit there is that's annoying people today. Responsible smokers, such as ones who bring their own ashtrays with them, will obey your new rules and bugger off somewhere else with their money - if they can afford $15 or more for a pack of legal smokes they can't be doing badly and if they're buying chop-chop at a fraction of that they're saving enough elsewhere - while the irresponsible ones will simply ignore them. You could have hired a litter warden or two and fined people a couple of hundred bucks for dropping their butts in the sand, and the irresponsible ones would have soon noticed that those smart enough to bring their own ashtrays or walk to a public one weren't being harassed. A few dollars for a pocket ashtray or a couple of hundred for a littering fine? It's a no brainer. Instead you're going to have to accept that people who smoke on the beach at night and early on when they have it to themselves are soon going to realise that this is an unenforceable law and carry on as before.

Is it fascism? Maybe a little because it'll drive out the reasonable smokers who just want a quiet life, but without anything more than a piece of legislation and a wish it's fascism-lite at worst. Australia may wish people didn't smoke and dreams of being able to wave the problem away (probably with the usual theatrical coughing the smokophobes like to do - I'm sure that's bad for your throat and you should probably stop) and so it makes their lives difficult. But it doesn't really want people to stop because it needs the billions in tobacco taxes and their Big Pharma friends who sell that nice, safe nicotine in gum and patches need smokers under pressure to give up so that there's a market for their products.

Fascism? Only in the fantasies of the most foam-mouthed smokophobes. Big Pharma and their government pals have balance sheets to worry about, and it's in neither of their interests for all the smokers to actually stop. There's not going to be any kicking in of smokers' doors, there won't be any kind of tobacco Kristallnacht. And there won't even be much real effort to enforce any local bylaws that are passed.

This is an empty gesture that will prove as hollow as it sounds. Go to the Hobson's Bay foreshore at dawn on a summer's day in a couple of years' time to count cigarette butts and see if I'm wrong.
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