Smoking has become such a hated pass time that in the UK, hospital managers are telling patients off for smoking in hospital grounds – which strictly speaking isn’t illegal. Here is an article I found from the Observer…
Nick Cohen, Sunday August 19, 2007
Last week, a young NHS psychiatrist, who blogs under the pseudonym Shiny Happy Person, described how she ‘was just taking five minutes out, enjoying the sunshine in the surprisingly pleasant grounds of my new hospital, when the flowerbed spoke to me’.
She went on to reassure her readers: ‘No, I’m not neuroleptic-deficient. Other people heard it too. One moment, all was quiet and the next a disembodied voice was bellowing from somewhere in the vicinity of the begonias. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t actually addressing me and I know this because it said, “This is a no-smoking area. Please put your cigarette out. A member of staff has been informed.” I gave up smoking six weeks ago. But, really, how Orwellian is that?
‘The smokers looked understandably alarmed, glanced furtively around and then scarpered. I can’t help questioning the wisdom of installing a talking flowerbed to tell people off in the grounds of a psychiatric hospital, of all places.’One of the many difficulties in reporting on the NHS is that doctors cannot speak freely about the idiocies of their managers. Threats of dismissal mean I can’t identify the junior psychiatrist or say where she works. But it is on the record that hospitals have banned smoking and some, such as the University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire Trust, have put smoke alarms outdoors to catch patients who nip outside for a quick fag.
The makers of a new generation of alarms say their trade doesn’t stop with the NHS. They are doing good business with local authorities, drug rehabilitation centres and government departments. Their Cig-Arrete (geddit?) detector provides ‘a visual and audible re-enforcement of your commitment to creating a smoke-free environment’.
Sensors pick up the whiff of illicit smoke and a voice cries: ‘This is a no- smoking area. Please extinguish your cigarette. A member of staff has been contacted.’ Which sounds very like what Shiny Happy Person said she heard.
You might think there’s nothing wrong with alarms blaring out threats when smoking is the biggest cause of preventable death. But then it’s not illegal to smoke in hospital grounds or any other open space. NHS managers are going way beyond the law and not thinking about the likely effects on the mentally ill of having flowerbeds shout at them when they do it.
Their hectoring is hardly novel. Last week, we had example after example of British bureaucrats, grown fat on extra powers and extra funds, using an ever-more audacious authoritarianism to hide their manifold shortcomings.
As psychiatric patients were fleeing from talking begonias, the Metropolitan Police threatened to use anti-terrorist legislation against climate-change protesters at Heathrow, even though the demonstrators were not, in fact, terrorists. A few days earlier, the West Midlands Police and Crown Prosecution Service had referred Channel 4 to the media regulator, Ofcom, for exposing Islamists who preached hatred of unbelievers and called for homosexuals ‘to be thrown off mountains’.
As Joanne Cash, a distinguished libel lawyer, said at a meeting in defence of the programme makers, the police and CPS have ‘no power and no jurisdiction’ to censor investigative journalism. ‘They have overstepped their powers into the realm of freedom of expression.’
Meanwhile, the Chief Constable of Cheshire, Peter Fahy, gave the clearest sign yet that drinking was replacing smoking as the vice the 21st century can’t tolerate. He responded to the arrest of four teenagers for the alleged murder of Garry Newlove by calling for the legal age for drinking alcohol to be raised to 21. Three of the accused are under 18 and were, allegedly, drinking before the killing.
But the accusation that they had broken an existing law his officers failed to enforce did not deter Mr Fahy from demanding a new law and, indeed, the overturning of the basic principle of English law. ‘At the moment, you can drink anywhere you like unless the local authority has designated that you can’t drink in that area,’ he continued. ‘I would like to see the emphasis changed and that we say drinking in public is not permitted apart from in those areas where a local authority says, “Yes, in this particular park, this particular location, people can drink.”‘
It is alarming to realise that a chief constable charged with upholding the law has no respect for the 800-year-old common law principle that any act which isn’t specifically illegal is legal. He and others want to turn it on its head so that all acts are illegal except those the authorities specifically say are legal.
The alternative would have been to promise to break up gangs and remove the licences of pubs and shops that sold to underage drinkers. But that would require hard police work and the sending of more criminals into an overcrowded prison system that doesn’t want more prisoners.
The seduction of authoritarianism is that it is easier, much easier, to install screaming smoke detectors than persuade patients to stop smoking; to shoot the messengers rather than investigate totalitarian religion; to stop law-abiding people from drinking or protesting rather than take action against teenage gangs or real terrorists.
I suspect the overbearing streak in government is going to get worse. As Labour’s public spending increases slow down, the incentive to lash out will grow among institutions such as the NHS and the police which need to conceal how much public money they have wasted.
More insidious is the notion that people can be forced to be good. If you are a puritan, you can believe we would be a happier society if cigarettes and alcohol had never been invented. If you can close your eyes and sink into the daydreams that there is no need to protest about climate change or that sexist, racist and homophobic preachers are the invention of the media, you will be happier still.
Any assault on freedom becomes justifiable if it will help lead us to a clean-living, conflict-free, multicultural Utopia. The shrieking from the flowerbeds is only going to get louder.Smoking NewsSmoking News