The recent passage of the plain packaging for tobacco legislation through the lower house of the Australian Parliament, and the sanctimonious comments issuing from bloggers, news commentators and health fascists everywhere, prompted me to write about my biggest disappointment arising from this legislation – the betrayal of individual liberty and classical liberal principles that are embodied by this move. Put another way, it’s about my disappointment with how exigent politics defeats principled policy-making every time.
Let’s be certain about this: I am a smoker, and have been for years. As a smoker I understand that tobacco consumption poses significant health risks, just as I know that drinking alcohol poses significant health risks, and driving a car, eating too much fattening food, robbing a bank at gunpoint, crossing the street innocently, etc.
As a consumer of a product that is legal, however, I expect not to be treated as a social leper, sinner or other kind of undesirable critter by the state. This is different from accepting a degree of opprobrium extended by private individuals, and even restrictions on when and where I can use the product (as is the case with, say, alcohol, gasoline, matches, mobile phones, etc).
When the state moves to impose on me a requirement that I be unable to access product information on the packaging of that product, replacing the manufacturer’s intentions with state propaganda messages – and that is really what is being proposed – I am concerned enough to voice dissent.
First, let’s be absolutely clear: this is not a move to ‘plain packaging’. It is direct censorship and intervention in free market exchanges. No other product with potentially harmful side-effects has to carry this kind of state mandated propaganda, otherwise we’d have cars carrying large and graphic images of mutilated car crash victims, aircraft depicting charred bodies, alcohol containers plastered with photos of women beaten senseless by violently drunk men, etc. We do not do this because we still accept that these products are legal, and the risks associated with their use are part of the conditions of their use. Smoking, however, has taken on a different category. I see this new category being largely the invention of overly zealous ‘health fascists’, who have assumed the right to interfere in the lives of others on a number of grounds, not least of which is the right of the state to mandate a degree of ‘healthy’ living.
Continue reading “Abbott’s smoking gun anti-liberalism”