We can have sex and become soldiers at 16, so are we really saying we can't smoke until we're 21? Asks Colin Brazier
This morning Sajid Javid said he no longer sees the role of the NHS as just about saving lives, it must also nag people before they become patients
His latest wheeze – I choose my word carefully – is to raise the age at which someone can legally smoke…to 21.
Not confirmed yet, but highly likely to happen. It’s got the backing of all the usual suspects.
The anti-smoking lobby groups who, rather than disband and find other jobs, keep on discovering that there’s actually lots of work left to do. Who’d’ve thunk it?
They got their way on bans in pubs and clubs and offices and factories and trains and planes and pretty much anywhere, short of your own home, where it looked like people might be enjoying a cheeky fag.
And now a new tactic. Not entirely new in fact. New Zealand, that beacon of lockdown liberty, recently said anyone born after 2008 could never legally buy tobacco.
The anti-smoking lobby, having fought to limit smoking by location, is now making it about your generation.
You may be able to become a soldier or have sex at 16.
At 17 you can drive a car. Until Nicola Sturgeon succeeds in extending the franchise to toddlers, voting is a privilege normally awarded to someone turning 18.
So why make 21 the age at which someone can smoke?
Are we saying, as I think we must be, that it’s only at that age that someone can make an informed decision?
As a society we would be saying that a teenager is mature enough to change the gender into which they were born, but too immature to decide to spark-up a cig.
The coherent thing would be to declare – one age – when someone is old enough to judge risk.
The risk of getting pregnant, getting shot wearing the Queen’s uniform, voting into power Nicola Sturgeon or buying a beer to forget you ever did so.
But imagine the uproar there’d be if Sajid Javid announced that, because the NHS spends billions cleaning-up the mess of excessive alcohol consumption, you would have to turn 21 before having a legal drink.
And Legal is the key word.
Whenever we make more things unlawful, especially things which many folk believe shouldn’t be, we force them underground.
Suddenly the stigma of ‘breaking the law’ loses a bit more of its moral authority.
There’s a principle at stake too. People have the right to destroy themselves, if they so choose.
This week a 52-year-old Northern Irishman became the third fatality of this year’s the Isle of Man road races.
More than 260 riders have died since the event began.
The competitors know exactly what risks they are taking.
They have made a calculation – a calculation the state has no right to interfere with – that true fulfilment might sometimes involve danger.
Increasingly, the state is infuriated by the idea that it can’t tell people how to live.
As with lockdown, it loves to say, your vice is bad for others – so stop it. If you don’t wear a mask, you might give someone Covid.
If you use tobacco, you punish passive smokers.
Raising the age at which someone can choose to smoke in their own home, a million miles away from anyone else, isn’t about protecting others. It’s about infantilisation.
Sajid Javid and the other grown-ups will decide when it’s safe for you to play.