It was once thought that, in order to become a professor, a person had to prove himself to have fully functioning reasoning ability. It was further thought that high office of any description needed someone with responsibility and intelligence. Such cannot be the case any more. Consider Professor Mark Drakeford, Minister for Health and Social Services in the Welsh Assembly, who fails on all three counts.
He obviously cannot differentiate between concepts as different as matter and anti-matter, or smokers and non-smokers. For his guidance, I shall simply say that smokers set fire to tobacco and suck in the ensuing smoke. Non-smokers do not. It's that simple. Smokers, by their actions, might risk harming themselves; that is their choice, and their right. Non-smokers have made a choice not to smoke, as is their right. Furthermore, non-smokers have won the right not to be exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke in enclosed public places by virtue of the Health Act 2006. We shall leave aside for the moment, so as not to confuse the honourable gentleman, the question of whether non-smokers have any choice at all about what other atmospheric pollutants they might be subjected to in places they choose to frequent.
Non-smokers have the right not to smoke in any place they choose, and, for absolute clarity, I shall say that non-smokers also have the right to not smoke in any place they choose. In any location, they can choose to undertake, or not undertake, any legal activity that is generally permitted in such places. Legal means that which is not prohibited by any law or laws currently in force. Permitted means that which is not proscribed by rules of the establishment. Thus, for example, eating an apple is a legal act just about anywhere. However, playing a violin may require the issue of a music license in certain venues, but is perfectly legal in most others, but might require permission from a responsible person in, say, a church or a courtroom, or a workplace. Generally, society functions perfectly well with such simple rules. Only when someone's action causes serious annoyance to others, or harms them, do we enact laws to alleviate the annoyance or harm. Thus we do not have laws to prevent the consumption in public places of apples, nor oranges, onions, garlic, etc. We have no laws to circumscribe the use of scents, after-shaves, deodorants and the like, or to forbid our fellows to have halitosis, in any of the places where we go about our daily routines (much as we may sometimes wish that we did). Instead, we allow people do what it is their right as citizens to do, without let or hindrance, unless there is proven harm to others, or realistic risk of such, from an activity.
In Professor Drakeford's universe, though, things appear to be different. Here, it seems, legal activities are those that are approved of by Professor Drakeford. He seeks to enact regulations that prohibit acts that have never proved harmful, that have little or no potential for harm, simply because he has failed to note the difference between smokers and non-smokers. I shall explain it again, with emphasis, “Smokers smoke. Non-smokers do not smoke!”
Non-smokers do not generate second-hand smoke, they do not put toxic chemicals into the air. They do not spread carcinogens around, they do not drop ash on the floor, or burn clothing, or leave cigarette ends around. So we leave non-smokers alone to get on with their lives. Unfortunately, we do not know what they eat, or drink, what they use to wash their clothes, or themselves, or whether they even do! We do not care about their personal hygiene, unless it causes us annoyance, but, even then, we do not compel them to meet our standards. We really do not care that they are non-smokers; they are our fellow workers, fellow commuters, fellow drinkers, fellow drivers, well, our fellows. Unless, it seems, they like a nip of nicotine. Alcohol we can live with, coffee, chocolate, chicken soup, curry, kebabs, the ripest cheeses, but not nicotine! They can take nicotine, of course, as a way of giving up smoking. They may be wearing a patch, or chewing gum, or sucking a plastic tube or puffing a spray that contains nicotine, for smoking cessation, and they will be welcomed everywhere. But in the good professor's universe, if they pick up an e-cig they move into another dimension; matter becomes anti-matter, the non-smoker suddenly metamorphoses into a smoker! Most of the world would recognise that an e-cig user is not a smoker – for he does not use tobacco, he does not set fire to tobacco, he does not smoke. Most will now say that he is 'vaping', for he inhales nicotine not from smoke (for he is a non-smoker), but from a vapour of propylene glycol or glycerine, a mist that is as definitely not smoke as Snowdon is not Everest.
Professor Drakeford, of course, as an erudite man, can explain this enigma. It is that by vaping, the non-smoking nicotine user 'renormalises' the act of smoking. That by breathing out mist, he may look vaguely like a smoker. (On a cold morning, the good professor himself probably looks like a smoker, too!) And he explains that vaping undermines the warnings about the dangers of smoking, since someone seen to be not smoking clearly suggests to others that smoking is not harmful! And he further makes it seem that young people are too poorly educated to be able to tell the difference between steam and bonfire smoke. Furthermore he explains that vaping may be a 'gateway' to smoking, that a non-smoker may try an e-cig, be instantly addicted to nicotine, and embark on a lifetime of – smoking? Not for him is the concept of a one-way gate; that the e-cig offers a safer alternative to smoking, that smokers use e-cigs to move away from tobacco, and not non-smokers into smoking.
So it is that Professor Drakeford wants e-cigs to be included in the ban on smoking in public places, even though there is absolutely no evidence that they have caused harm to anyone; not to the users and certainly not to non-users. But he vehemently denies that this is 'nannying' by his department. “When seatbelts were put in cars,” he says, “that debate was vigorously played out, but we would never go back now to the position where we had all those deaths.” But he fails to mention that there are absolutely no deaths attributable to vaping; not one.
The frightening thing to me is that there are quite a few such people as the professor making decisions as ridiculous and ludicrous as his. Their specious arguments are trotted out daily and interpreted by our law makers into unjust and ridiculous laws that will almost certainly have exactly the reverse effect to their stated intention. Instead of preventing death and disease from smoking, they will serve only to prevent non-smoking vapers from taking their rightful place with other non-smokers in the clean, fresh non-smoking world that they profess to be creating. And one where citizens' rights count for nothing, and natural law is in second place to bigoted thinking.