Much has been said, broadcast and thought about these two issues over the past few days, but in the end they epitomise the battle in today's society between Rights and Responsibilities, liberties and restrictions.
They hold this status because they are individual choices without individual consequences. There can be no-one left in this country who, placed in a non threatening environment, would not admit to knowing they are very bad for you. But everyday millions of people are able to choose to smoke or drink without immediately experiencing the cost of the consequences of their actions. By which I mean of course, that because their health care from cradle to grave is free they are able to deploy that most human of instincts "head in the sand" regardless of how quickly they may be advancing towards the grave.
Only in Britain today could we tie ourselves in knots over such an issue. Only in a Britain that demands its rights without comprehending nor being prepared to accept its responsibilities.
In the Army we had something called "self inflicted injury" - a chargeable offence no less and from which there was no escape. Doing anything, either through ignorance or intention, that rendered one unfit for duty, ranging from sun stroke through inebriation to breaking a leg in a thoughtless or unplanned action, was "self inflicted" and punished. Soldiers (and officers) knew and accepted this and it made for a responsible unit of people (albeit after making your first and only mistake - I for example tried to show off (in front of a girl, now my wife, poor thing!) by climbing a rope in a drunken state and ended up descending so fast I severely burnt my hands. Self inflicted, no sympathy and punished!)
So my first observation is this. If people are to be free to choose to accelerate their demise, they should do so at no cost to to their fellow man. The cost of their inevitable health care should be starkly represented everytime they light a fag or crack open a beer. This can be achieved in any number of ways including raising the price of cigarettes to the degree that you wince when they ring through the till, to insurance based health care with premiums paid according to your CHOSEN lifestyle.
My second observation is more fundamental. The right to choose is crucial to the process of comprehending responsibility and this applies to all spheres in life. Only through the ability to make mistakes can we hope to learn or be motivated into thinking more closely about the decisions we make. Removing choice is a backward step and to be avoided at all cost, especially by Government.
My third would be this. The market place has an astonishing ability to turn trends and fashions into money. So answer me this - if there are many millions more non smokers than smokers, and if the smell of smoke is so distasteful, why has nobody created a chain of non smoking restuarants, cafes and bars? By any measurement clientele would be queuing round the block and applications for employment would take weeks to stack let alone process. Independents would flourish into chains and the concept would in itself regulate smokers into dark and smelly corners. I find it impossible to believe that the market has missed this. In any town or village it is possible for a bar owner to advertise the fact that he is smoke free and reap the apparent reward, so where is the pressure and why don't they?
If societal pressure can make you feel inadequate and wretched just for wearing flared trousers or for accepting hefty fees for speaking at a charity event, I am damn sure it can let you know what it thinks of smoking. My wife and children leave me with no uncertainty whatsoever about what they think of my smoking.
Sadly the reality is that we are Governed by a regime that increasingly wants to regulate society into obeyance and they govern a people who have lost the ability or desire to regulate themselves.
If nicotine and cigarettes are as dangerous as is now commonly asserted they must be classified as a drug along side cannabis and banned outright. If they are not then they must be priced to cover health care costs and left to society at large to determine their acceptability.
Stop nannying us, Blair, and govern us.