Monday, August 28, 2006

Smoke and Mirrors

Keith Richards is facing his latest bust, for smoking on stage at a Stones gig in Hampden Park in contravention of Scotland's new anti-smoking laws. Though I am an enthusiastic supporter of such laws, surely this is the sort of move that only alienates people further in an over-zealous application of the law. Perhaps Keef should not be above the law anymore than anybody else but he is hardly going to be as put out by the fifty pound fine as your average Glaswegian might be. It is disproportionate and silly and only contributes to the impression that such laws are the conception of humourless killjoys. The fact that Richards is being rapped for smoking at an outdoor concert calls into question the wisdom of the law banning smoking in outdoor work environments. Under Ireland's much more sensible laws he would be allowed to smoke as much as he liked, provided the work-area in which he was smoking had fifty percent of its surface area exposed. Workplace smoking bans are laudable on a purely pragmatic basis; in Ireland the majority of people - including a majority of smokers - support the laws and they will gradually eliminate smoking in society over ten to fifteen years, as well as protecting the health of those previously exposed to noxious smoke. Glasgow City Council's move to prosecute Keith Richards does not fall in with this pragmatism.

Meanwhile, French health minister Xavier Bertrand has announced that a ban on smoking in public places will be implented in January of next year, with bar-tabacs, some restaurants and other places exempt for the first year. A sensible enough compromise. His own government and his own ministry however have distanced themselves from his comments, fearful of implementing a possibly unpopular law before next year's Presidential and Legislative elections. The French will not go for the ban as enthusiastically as the Scandanavians and the Irish before them, but they are not as heavy smokers as is popularly imagined. Certainly those that drink in France smoke a lot but if you go to any small town in the French provinces, the non-smoking section is generally the larger one. If the Italians could do the ban before them, and they smoke a lot more than the French, then there should not be too much trouble here.