New York recently banned smoking in parks, together with its usual schemes against smoking on certain bits of the pavement. When the law was passed, there were a few predictions this sort of measure could make its way over here. After all, ban on smoking in public buildings was introduced in California. It was seen as draconian and heavy-handed at the time, but quickly became unquestionable once it was introduced.
Well it looks like we may be ready to import the American's latest wheeze as well. The Blackpool Gazette is reporting that the city is about to put up signs outlawing smoking in any of its 13 parks and playing fields. It’s a bit of a lie. Actually banning smoking would require a by-law, which they don’t have. Instead, it appears NHS Blackpool have just paid to have the signs put up. A bit of fait accompli, without any fait. But most people are good-natured and trusting enough that the signs should do the trick.
The jump from a ban to smoking in public places to smoking in the outside air is hugely significant. The public buildings ban at least clung onto the idea of second hand smoke affecting employees in bars and pubs. No such luck here. There are no credible scientists who will claim that second-hand smoke in the outside air has a health effect on people who happen to pass by.
You cannot claim this is to protect others. This is outright paternalism – authorities telling you what you can do with your own body. Health campaigners are now in the business of de-normalising smoking. They'll argue that reducing the presence of smokers in public spaces will discourage children from smoking. In reality, they want to change the way all of society views smokers. Once they are suitably looked down on by society, the debate on outright criminalisation can begin. We're probably only ten to 15 years off.