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Smokers face discrimination and persecution, says report

Monday 4th July 2011

Smokers are increasingly discriminated against and persecuted, says a new report.

According to the report by Simon Davies of Privacy International, legislation introduced for the protection of public health is being exploited to create a range of measures that was never intended, even by the most ardent supporters of tobacco regulation.

Encroachment into the home and family life of smokers has in some cases become blatant and intrusive, with local authorities, health bodies and housing associations adopting policies that restrict the right of people to act freely in their own home or vehicle.

The surveillance of smokers has increased sharply with the use of tracking and surveillance equipment to monitor their activities and movements. 

Employers are routinely and unfairly discriminating against staff who smoke and are adopting tactics that are based not on education but on harassment and intimidation.

Evidence-based policy that nurtures fairness and equality has been sacrificed in many aspects of tobacco policy. Tolerance is being replaced by a zeal for recrimination.

The report highlights seven key areas of concern:

1.  An increase in non-statutory penalties and controls
2.  An extensive widening of the scope for restrictions
3.  A shift toward “people’s policing” of smoking
4.  A shift from an evidence-based approach to a morality-based approach
5.  An increase in the surveillance of smokers
6.  A sharp increase in cases of discrimination
7.  A drift from public health protection to the demonisation of smokers

“Without care,” writes Davies, “the future for many smokers will be characterised by discrimination and persecution, even when their actions have the minimum impact on the lives of other people. 

“This report provides clear evidence that a trend is emerging toward discriminatory action being taken not only by national government but also by individuals, family, employers, businesses and local authorities.

“It is not inconceivable that within a decade anyone suspected of being a smoker may be routinely subjected to polygraph testing, psychometric examination or third-party investigation. The right to employment has already been compromised, as has smoking in some home environments. 

“In future smokers may face a choice between secrecy and social exclusion. Social organisations, landlords, service providers and employers may themselves be deemed irresponsible if they fail to pursue an exclusion policy.”

Welcoming the report, Simon Clark, direct of the smokers’ group Forest, said, “We acknowledge the serious health risks associated with smoking, and we accept that government has a role to play educating people, children especially, about those risks.

“Tobacco however is a legal product and there is no justification for many of the tobacco control measures currently under consideration. Prohibiting the display of tobacco in shops, banning smoking in outdoor areas, outlawing smoking in private vehicles and even, in some cases, the home, is unnecessarily restrictive and a gross invasion of privacy and civil liberties.

“Thanks to the tobacco control policies of successive governments, Britain has become an increasingly intolerant and illiberal place to work and socialise. We welcome this report and hope that it will be read by ministers and civil servants as a warning of what lies ahead if the war on tobacco continues in its present direction.”

ends

For further comment
Simon Clark 07774 781840

Civil Liberties: Up In Smoke has been prepared by Privacy International, a leading privacy advocacy group, at the request of Forest, the UK smokers’ rights organisation. Forest has also contributed to the research costs. Simon Davies, author of the report, is founder and director of Privacy International.

Civil Liberties: Up In Smoke can be downloaded here.

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