Pub Garden Reading

For the past week or so, in one sunny pub garden or another, I’ve been reading Smoking, Class and the Legitimation of Power, by Sean Gabb, who is the Director of the Libertarian Alliance, and who isn’t a smoker.

And the book isn’t about class and the legitimation of power. That’s just what its Introduction is about. The rest of the book, which consists of several different essays mostly written 20 years earlier, is about smokers’ rights.

In some ways it’s really two books. One written circa 1988 for publication by Forest, and the other an introduction written circa 2005. For what springs out of this book is that the author has radically changed his mind in the intervening period. Circa 1990 he is writing in an essay on The Right to Smoke: a Conservative View:

For myself, I stand by the right to enjoy smoking. I am fiercely and unalterably opposed to any measures which will, for the sake of a smoker’s own supposed benefit, tend to infringe that right. But then I am a Conservative. I belong to the Party of Freedom. (p. 121)

But by 2005, in the Introduction, he has become disillusioned:

I then believed that the agenda of the Thatcher Government was to liberate the British people, but that this agenda had been corrupted in various ways. I now believe the agenda was one of replacing a social democratic order that had turned out not to serve ruling class interests with another one that did… When I wrote my Conservative defence, I thought of Margaret Thatcher as a kind of Julian the Apostate. Despite her miserable ejection from office, I can see her now as a kind of Diocletian. She brought stability to what had been crumbling. She did not make government better – only more efficient. What I took at the time to be blemishes on the agenda I now realise were the agenda. (Introduction xvi)

The disillusionment extends to the very nature of government:

In any society, the main function of government is to provide status and incomes for the ruling class. However recruited, the members of such a class will be motivated by a disinclination to earn their living by voluntary exchange, or by a delight in coercing others, or by a combination of the two. (Introduction vi)

So he appears to have changed from being a Thatcherite free market liberal into something more akin to a Marxist class warrior.

Therefore the war against tobacco. Its function is to provide a set of plausible excuses for the extraction of resources from the people and for the exercise of power over them. (Introduction xi)

Is this so? The only way in which “resources” can be “extracted” from smokers would seem to be through the taxation of tobacco. In this respect, the associated war on smoking would seem counter-productive, because the less tobacco that is consumed, and the fewer people who continue to smoke, the less tax revenue there will be from tobacco. Furthermore, as smokers are driven from pubs and cafes and restaurants by smoking bans, the less money they will spend on food and drink in such places, and the less tax revenue the government can extract from these various hospitality businesses.  And lastly total victory in that war – with smoking made illegal – would see tax revenues from tobacco completely collapse.

So while predatory government provides an explanation for the punitive taxation of tobacco, it  doesn’t seem to offer a good explanation for the war on tobacco –  except as a justification of the level of taxation. Why kill the goose that lays the golden eggs? Surely a predatory government that really wished to extract the maximum tax revenue from smokers would actively encourage smoking? For the more people smoke, the greater the tax revenue. Indeed a rapacious government might even encourage children to take up smoking. Government taxation of tobacco is entirely at odds with the governmental war on tobacco, and indicates a degree of schizophrenia, perhaps with one government department (the treasury) at war with another (dept  of health).

But all that aside, the essays from the late 1980s were thought-provoking. The Right to Smoke: A Christian View was an essay of a kind I have quite simply never read before: a theological defence of smoking. Who writes things like that these days?

Equally thought-provoking was Commercial Advertising: A Threatened Human Right. It was thought-provoking for me because, to be quite honest, I’ve never thought very much about advertising. And when I do think about it, I tend to think about the defamatory anti-advertising that is now required by law on tobacco products. What’s to stop cars bearing health warnings showing crushed and mangled children, and Driving Kills? Or books carrying health warnings about their contents? Where does it end?

But it was the very last few lines of the book with which I found myself in most complete agreement:

Hostile reviews of anti-smoking propaganda often conclude by accusing the body in question of wasting the tax-payers’ money, and calling for reforms to its management. I think this shows a lack of understanding.  So far as our various rulers are concerned, the Tobacco-Free Initiative has not been a waste of money. Nor are all the other research projects and campaigns of other bodies. It is a central purpose of these bodies to lie to us about the dangers of smoking. Those who work for them are selected for their ability to conduct biased research and to dress up the resulting propaganda as scientific fact.

There is no point in demanding changes to the present health establishment. Expecting these people to start telling the truth is as naïve as expecting an estate agency to start offering driving lessons.

The only way to stop this flood of propaganda and lifestyle regulation is to shut all the relevant bodies down – to kick everyone employed by them unpensioned into the street, and to burn all the records. (The Passive Smoking Scare. p. 194)

Amen to that.  Except I’d go further: I’d also prosecute them to the ends of the earth.


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16 Responses to Pub Garden Reading

  1. harleyrider1978 says:

    Government taxation of tobacco is entirely at odds with the governmental war on tobacco, and indicates a degree of schizophrenia, perhaps with one government department (the treasury) at war with another (dept of health).

    We forget its not the government actually doing it,its the ones in charge of government doing it.

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      after 10 years hitting the Nazis pretty much daily I figure Ive got nearly 75,000 posts out there now!

  2. Lepercolonist says:

    As more U.S. states allow the legalization of marijuana, the government is salivating over future revenue streams. It will be similar to the tobacco playbook. Incremental tax increases that will balloon to the point of insanity. Full cycle to most people buying their grass on the street as they always have. The health nuts are waiting for the proper time to begin their propaganda blitz about the dangers of marijuana. Inevitable.

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      Leper one thing is this,most folks have become desentitized to the propaganda they’ve had it with it all as the so called health risks of everything became totally insane and no longer believable. Literally all our kids start laughing when the medical moment comes on anymore!

  3. smokingscot says:

    “Furthermore, as smokers are driven from pubs and cafes and restaurants by smoking bans, the less money they will spend on food and drink in such places, and the less tax revenue the government can extract from these various hospitality businesses.”

    Odd – I actually sat me down and worked out what that means in practice – and I referenced yourself and Junican on the pints and nips you guys no longer consume.

    It’s a fairly simple set of numbers that most people who visit here can relate to, in fact much of it is based on comments made on your blog. Yet even I was surprised at exactly how much it comes to and what that means for the economy as a whole.

    • Frank Davis says:

      That was a very interesting read.

    • Timothy Goodacre says:

      This is amazing. Thank you for this very well written piece ! I had no idea the sums were so huge.

    • nisakiman says:

      An excellent post, SS. However, I think you underestimate by an order of magnitude how much less money is going into the system. For a start, the majority of regular pub-goers (and consumers of above average amounts of beer) were smokers. They would not only spend money in the pub, but also in the Indian takeaway / Kebab Shop / Fish and Chip shop on the way home on a regular basis. They would also regularly use taxis since the draconian drink/drive laws came in. They would very often be accompanied by their wives / girlfriends, who would tend to dress up and put on the war paint to go out. So clothes sales and sales of make-up will have dropped. I could go on, as there are dozens if not hundreds of peripheral industries which will have felt the ripple effect.

      And how many, like Junican, will take their money that they now no longer put into the local economy and spend it in Spain or wherever, and also spend a thousand pounds on cigarettes there to bring back so as to avoid the punitive rates here? A lot, I would imagine.

      Yes, I think your figures are very conservative.

      • smokingscot says:


        However my intent was to stick to what I did and now do. And what others have said they do.

        I took the precaution of covering myself by saying:

        “And I know that one of my pals, who doesn’t smoke, only eats out with me so I should add a further £600 to that total, but I shan’t because I’m looking at the cheapest possible outcome of a smoking ban.”

        One problem with this topic is it’s very easy to explore every single branch – and that would lead to a post that would be intimidating and full of numbers. Boring and very unlikely to be read.

        I did it because I was curious and, because I’ve taken the figure of 5 million people for the hum-drum purchases and only 2 million for the booze side, then some will be lots more and some lots less.

        So yes it does err on the conservative side, yet just these figures on their own are remarkable – and it gives us a heads up on just how fragile our recovery is. One thing it is not is broad based. It’s financed by debt and “public spending” – and ain’t worth diddly squat to your average man in the street, though he, his kids and his grand kids will be paying for it.

        I also said:

        “What’s deeply disturbing is how it’ll impact in places like China and Russia because, like it or not, they matter. And while I’m mad keen to see both countries fragment into their component parts, I know it’s going to be very bloody and will rock our financial and political systems.

        I was struck by Frank’s post of 2 May (about altering the ban in Russia). Very little gets to that stage in Russia without approval from the top. I wonder if that’s perhaps because they’d very much like to get their smokers to participate as they did in the past.

        My suspicion is they won’t because, like us, once betrayed we get even. And in a democracy that means the government that passed the legislation. And the guy who heads this is none other than Dmitry Medvedev. The alternate poisoned dwarf.

      • harleyrider1978 says:

        Just released 2 months ago the bar business in America has had 40% shutdown since 2006 the year the ban frenzy started sweeping the nation.

  4. Timothy Goodacre says:

    In a sensible, enlightened society facilities for both smokers and non smokers would be provided.
    That is also very good for business.

    • harleyrider1978 says:

      has good for business is getting government out of it and then providing the atmosphere your niche customers want………that’s how success happens and government destroys anything it touches.

  5. Frank Davis says:

    As a matter of interest, commenter ‘prog’ left the following comment in the “About” section. I don’t know why he put it there:

    OT, but a must see for those worried about the Islamifcation of Europe – the fall of Sweden. The result of over liberal thinking, with one blinkered generation ignoring everything that has been achieved during the country’s long history by naively believing that all immigrants will embrace Swedish values – there is evidence to suggest that Sweden’s ever increasing Muslim population is now close to 10%, the level at which they can force social change at the expense of traditional values.

  6. harleyrider1978 says:

    the risk factor for what they are claiming is less than that of SHS was. I kid you not! J and J is getting back up their ass what they used on smokers for bans. Makes me thing BIG TOBACCO might be behind it lmao

    talcum powder BULLSHIT SUITS NOW the RR is only 1.25

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