What should our ethical government ban next?

With public smoking about to be banned, our ethical columnist suggests what should come next.

Ethan Greenhart

Topics Politics

Dear Ethan,

At long last, the British government has banned smoking in public places! As of this weekend, we’ll finally be able to breathe easily when we walk down the street…. But there are still numerous dirty habits that cause great harm to public health. What should we encourage the new Brown government to ban next?

Gillian Montgomery,
West London

Dear Gillian,

Part of me is overjoyed by the smoking ban. Smokers – those walking, talking, fume-breathing little factories of filth – will finally be prevented from polluting our environment with their carcinogens.

Quite why anybody would want to imitate the workings of a factory, and transform their own bodies into Dickensian-style creators of smog, is beyond me. I could live with it if they were just harming themselves. After all, as we know from the government’s anti-smoking campaigns, self-induced diseases like lung cancer are a natural form of comeuppance for immoral behaviour – and they have the benefit (sorry, I couldn’t think of another word for it!) of reducing the population, especially the number of poor/depressed/disempowered people who lack the capacity to make informed choices.

But smokers harm others, too. I’m thinking of the cats and dogs that live in smokers’ homes, who DO NOT give their consent to having cancerous smoke blown in their innocent faces; I’m thinking of the tyranny of fag butts that line the streets, discarded by smokers who obviously care as little for public space as they do for their own lungs. (As far as I’m concerned, if you’re a smoker, and therefore an expresser of carcinogenic clouds, it is a nonsense to describe your lungs as ‘private space’ anyway. They should be open to inspection and chastisement by the government’s Environment Agency in the same way that other ‘organs’ which create pollution are: pubs, factories, nuclear plants, etc.)

The harm caused by smoking to animals and the environment far outweighs any benefit it might have as an unwitting corrector of human arrogance and overpopulation – and thus the ban should be welcomed by all greens.

However, another part of me thinks the ban is a smokescreen (sorry, I couldn’t resist!) Get this, Gillian: you won’t be allowed to smoke in bars because it might harm bar-workers – but you will be allowed to drive a twin-engine, exhaust-pumping, child-killing car on any public road you choose! As you and I know, car exhaust fumes are the greatest evil: if an individual cigarette is a metaphorical nail in the coffin, then cars are the coffin itself (literally for those who die in them – those sacrificial lambs to our bizarre culture of speed and movement).

Also, while people will be banned from coughing up poisonous fumes in public, factories will still be permitted to vomit out their dust and poisons and sludge. (I know that you, being a London-dweller, probably do not see many factories these days. The capital has wisely turned its old engines of destruction into art galleries or flats for usually quite eco-conscious graphic designers who recycle their Design Weekly weekly. But there are still factories in the north of England; I saw one with my own eyes when I was travelling by train to the Edinburgh Festival last year to see my friend’s eco-experimental play My Life As A Rat.)

If Brown, following Blair, is serious about protecting public health, then why not ban cars? Or at least make it so expensive to own and operate one that even the obese inhabitants of that northern town I passed by will be tempted to dig out and dust down their granddad’s old bike and get some exercise for a change? Why not finish what Thatcher started, and close down all remaining factories or mines? Now is the time for daring, Mr Brown!

I say, let us follow the logic of the smoking ban right through: let us take more ethical steps to improve the lives of people and animals. For instance, I was over the moon to hear various animal rights organisations draw attention to the dangers of increased smoking at home for their animal companions. (By the way, ‘over the moon’ is strictly a metaphor – space travel can never be regarded as acceptable.) But let’s not forget the other dangers that animals living in human homes face: fireworks damage their mental wellbeing, making them feel frightened and undervalued, as does loud television noise (people on the council estate near us turn their TVs up so loud that I feel like this ‘Richard and Judy’ – whomever they might be – are in my TV-free living room with me). Yes, let us protect our ‘pets’ – by banning smoking at home as well as in public AND by banning the sales of fireworks and enforcing strict national guidelines on TV volume levels.

Children’s campaigners say smoking at home is a form of child abuse, because little Johnny or Emily (or more like little Spike and Chelsea these days – crazy chavs, crazy names!) have no choice but to breathe in their uncaring parents’ second-hand smog. True. But parents abuse their kids in other ways, too: many mums and dads force their sons to play football, which instils in them an unnatural and depression-inducing competitive spirit; they take their daughters to ballet, that cruel and wicked form of ‘dance’ (I prefer to call it Female Bodily Distortion) which seeks to bend the human frame into shapes Gaia never intended. Let us Do Something about these issues, too.

Most hilariously – and I mean hilarious peculiar, rather than hilarious ha ha – is that you won’t be able to smoke in pubs but YOU CAN STILL DRINK! Alcohol is far more dangerous than fags. No, I don’t mean the very fruity and expensive wine that Sheba likes, which we choose only from vineyards in a 25-mile radius of our home (there is actually only one such vineyard) when we don’t make our own. Sadly, there has been at least one occasion as we have consumed this wine when Sheba has inadvertently commented that warmer summers might mean better vino bianco in England. Of course, I was apoplectic with rage – the very suggestion that there could be ANY positive benefit from global warming is outrageous!

No, the problem alcohol is the kind drunk by problem people: the Diamond White, the Stella, the Skol, which is consumed by the gallon-load by some of the very same people who are obese and who smoke (The Uninformed). This booze makes them violent and vomity, which means it hurts people AND the environment. So come on, Brown – if you’re interested in protecting public health, how about banning certain brands of alcoholic beverage?

The irony, of course, is that while driving and drinking (but not drink-driving) are still legal in Britain, cannabis is not. Dope is a peaceful and beautiful substance, ingested by responsible individuals who don’t litter or smoke fags or eat junk. It doesn’t even need to be transported – you can grow your own! Sustainable entertainment! Let’s get our priorities straight, and ban all that is harmful, while celebrating all that is fun-and-ethically-responsible.

Ethan Greenhart is here to answer all your questions about ethical living in the twenty-first century. Email him at {encode=”” title=””}. Read his earlier columns here.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


Want to join the conversation?

Only spiked supporters and patrons, who donate regularly to us, can comment on our articles.

Join today