Brighton Council is proposing to ban smoking on the beach. Brighton and Hove beaches is a long, windswept stretch, running for several miles. For most of the year, most of this large area has only a handful of people on it. Anyone smoking in this area would not only not affect others, they probably could not even be seen by them.
The council’s director of public health said that ‘in certain weather conditions’ smoking on the beach could cause harm to others. One wonders what weather conditions he is thinking about. Most of the time, the prevailing weather condition is a stiff sea breeze.
The move towards banning smoking in areas where smoking could not plausibly cause any trouble to anyone, shows that this is not about ‘passive smoking’ or public health. Instead, it is a pernicious move into the regulation of adults’ legitimate, legal activities in public spaces.
As well as the beach, the council is proposing a ban on smoking in parks, squares, and outside pubs and restaurants. This would mean that smoking would be banned in all the outdoors social spaces in the city. It would be something done furtively while moving from A to B, or hovering in a doorway.
There is no public demand or public need for these measures. Instead, these bans are driven out of the policy sphere, by officials for whom ‘smoke-free’ becomes the way they improve the ‘image’ of a public space. By restricting smokers, they say that a space is made ‘nice, clean, safe’. Sterile, more like.
If an activity isn’t harming anyone – whether that is skateboarding, begging, or smoking – it should not in a free society be justifiably restricted. In pursuing lifestyle bans of an increasing and bewildering variety, councils are not making public spaces ‘nicer’ – they are engineering public spaces out of existence.
The Brighton and Hove Council consultation is open until 13 October. Respond to it here.