Monday, May 28, 2007

Regulate This!

Politicians everywhere are a busy lot. In New York, they are busy banning trans fats and using iPods while walking, San Francisco has banned plastic bags, in the UK, every house tap must now be fitted with an anti-scalding device, the MPAA will now consider depictions of smoking when rating films and, of course, it is illegal in most countries to roll a joint and start puffing away.

These laws don't come out of the blue. In the UK, a study by the Kings fund found that nearly 73% wanted a ban on smoking in public places, 72% wanted a ban on junk food from schools,
and 65% wanted the government to put warning signs on bottles of alcohol.

Some bans do work. In New York a year after a ban on smoking was introduced, the number of adult smokers dropped by 11% (and the refined cigar smoker can no longer puff away in a cigar bar...grrr), seat belt laws have saved +500,000 lives in the UK.

However, one could ask how far they would go to prevent self-destructive behaviour. Surely if I sit in front of the TV guzzling beer and stuffing myself with crisps, I am doing harm to myself. Should I then expect a gentle knock on my door by a pair (a man and a woman to ensure gender equality, one of whom must be a physically challenged, transgendered, person of colour) with a gentle but firm admonition about not stuffing myself with the aforementioned beer and crisps (but not too firm in case I take offence and they trespass on my legitimate right to be a horizontally challenged individual)?

The problem is one of giving them an inch. These laws are a far cry from the repressive laws in China and Iran but they tend in that direction. In Iran, people don't even bat an eyelid when their leaders introduce bans on Western style neckties and haircuts. It's all par for the course in these countries. Here these laws would at least elicit some sort of debate - albeit a weak one. But even here there are those who are certainly willing even to question the moral integrity of someone who doesn't quite agree with them. Certainly the debate over drugs has been poisoned by this sort of thinking as has restrictions on pornography and prostitution. And who, after all, would oppose a law that would save lives (theocracies do even better as "saving lives" include the spiritual world too)?

Many of these laws are frivolous and "harmless" such as the iPod ban (if it is ever introduced) but the precedence they set - one in which government meddling becomes increasingly accepted - is cause for worry.

1 comment:

Neil said...

As you suggest, the efficacy of any proposed ban is not an automatic knock-down argument in its favour -- if for example we imposed the death-penalty for smoking cannabis then kids would likely cease being pot- heads, but that wouldn't make it right. I am innately suspicious of any ban that is aimed at the "public good" and suspect, usually accurately, that the person promoting it is a control freak and closet fascist (using that word in its non-pejorative sense, of course...)

All that being said, tho', please God won't someone on this blog think of the children?!?