Monday, 12 January 2009

A step too far?

A story in the weekend Liverpool Echo talks about a move by "health chiefs" (the PCT in other words) to use specific local powers to tackle films that feature people smoking. The idea is that going to the cinema and seeing a character in a film smoke makes people more likely to take up the habit, or less likely to give it up. The campaigners argue that actually there are local powers and councils could impose higher certificates (18) on films to be shown locally and showing people puffing away. We are told this is going to be considered at the licensing and gambling committee.

Now I was all in favour of the smoking ban - spoke in favour of it at Council, wrote articles, helped with publicity etc. That's because Liberalism is limited by harm to others. If you are smoking and I am breathing in your smoke, and it has been shown to be dangerous, then there should be a limit on your right to smoke. JS Mill would have approved I hope.

But surely the same does not apply to cinema films. Those proposing this suggest the exemptions would be historical characters who were known to have been smokers (Harold Wilson and his pipe would be a recent example) or characters whose smoking is portrayed in a way that makes us all realise it is "bad". Well apart from the huge judgement call in that, how on earth would we realistically portray certain decades in the 1900s? When I started work in the 80s, smoking at work was normal and you would expect to see it. Any film showing journalists, or office workers, of that time would simply look wrong without the cigarettes and ashtrays.

And who is to say that seeing someone smoke in a film actually makes you more likely to smoke? I recently went to see Che (the first part of the biopic about Che Guevara). That didn't make me suddenly want to go to Cuba and take part in a guerilla movement!

And these arguments come before you even get onto the one about artistic freedom and censorship.

I do applaud the Liverpool health campaigners for wanting to cut down on the amount of smoking in our City. But we have to accept that people have free choice and this is simply a step too far in my opinion.

No comments: