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Cheers - AE

Friday, 8 July 2011

The dividing line between liberty and stupid

Years ago when I still smoked and lived in a pre-smoking ban Britain I occasionally used to have to get a train into London from Wimbledon station. I don't know if either of my readers (hi, Mum) are at all familiar with Wimbledon station but it's a largish station both light rail/tram and Underground services as well as the main line rail service, and about ten or twelve platforms accessed from a bridge above. The tram service, for which I think Wimbledon is (or at least was) a terminus, is the furthest away from the main entrance on platform 12 or whichever is last, while the Underground service is a branch of the District Line which terminated at Wimbledon's platforms 1 to 4.

Can you guess where this is going yet? Yep, the pre-smoking ban bit was a clue. It was still possible to smoke on the platforms at Wimbledon station providing you were there to catch a main line train, but not on the District Line platforms since smoking was banned across the entire London Underground network after the king's Cross fire in the 80s. Even the bits which are not actually underground at all, which happens to be most of it and includes platforms 1 to 4 at Wimbledon. The impractical upshot of this is that smokers waiting for a District Line tube to rock up at platform 4 had to do without while staring across a 25 foot gap at the smokers on platform 5 who could puff away to their hearts' content as they waited for their train. This ludicrous situation dragged on for years and was stopped only by the smoking ban. That's New Labour for you - restricting freedoms and trashing property rights, because nobody else can be trusted with them.*

So when I saw Raedwald's blog about a street in Sydney where you can only smoke down one side it brought back memories of the idiotic situation in Wimbledon that persisted for so long. The difference for Sydneysiders is that at Wimbledon station if you needed a District Line train then you didn't have a choice, whereas if you fancy a cappuccino in Sydney's King Street...
The local council responsible for the pavement on the left ... has just banned all outdoor smoking, but the pavement on the right, within the City of Sydney area, still permits smokers to sit at the outside tables. Cafe owners on the left side are up in arms; all their trade has crossed the street. 
Raedwald goes on to note that on top of that it's a four lane street and everyone's breathing the exhaust fumes anyway.
This isn't about health at all; it's all just spite and bigotry.
Yes, it is, but it's also about the self-righteous exercise of power without thought for the effects. Laws and regulations are thought of as a magic wand that will change the people from how they are to how the pollies and the Grima Wormtongue like lobbyists who whisper into their ears think people really ought to be, but it never works out that way because people like their bad habits. Drunks falling down and puking on pavements is a problem, but try to force sobriety on everybody and you get the kind of violence that was the hallmark of Prohibition era America. Druggies lying around off their dials are a problem, but the war on drugs has just given us more expensive and less safe drugs - leading to more crime and health problems - and an epidemic of violence. And smoking? Well, as you may have seen me say before, I've been a non-smoker for long enough now that I dislike the smell of tobacco smoke, but if we have to have a ban on only one side of a road and wrecking the businesses down the non-smoking side I'd say that the solution is worse than the problem.

And since I can always take a couple of steps to avoid the smoke it's not really much of a problem to begin with, is it?

* And of course the Bluish-Yellowy government in power now hasn't changed it. That's the Cobbleition for you - restricting freedoms and trashing property rights because nobod... er, we've been here before, haven't we?
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