Lighting up controversy

By Drew Lindon

We’ve been talking about various examples of slippery slope arguments used by campaigns and their opponents. We’ll be discussing examples at our event in December.

An interesting case study are the many campaigns and legal battles that have been fought over tobacco in the UK. There’s too many to go into here, but it’s inarguable smoking in Britain has been increasingly subject to regulation over the last 10 years. Here’s some of the key changes for England and Wales specifically:

2007: minimum purchase age for cigarettes increased from 16 to 18 years of age
2007: smoking banned in workplaces and enclosed public spaces
2008: picture warnings on cigarette packs required
2012: display of tobacco products banned (rules came into place for different sizes of retailers at different times)
2014: illegal to smoke in cars when children are present
2015: illegal to sell e-cigarettes to under 18s
2016: standardised packaging required for tobacco products

Now, there are plenty of good arguments for why these changes should have been made. Better adult health and protection of children’s health are at the top of list. And in 2016, no serious person would claim that cigarettes aren’t bad for you. 78,000 deaths in 2014 have been attributed to smoking.

But it strikes me that this is an issue where opponents of future restrictions could easily pull out a slippery slope argument, with some justification based on significant historical precedent. If say, the Welsh Assembly took another crack at banning e-cigarettes, it would be fair to ask where this would stop, or what would be next – even if you saw future restrictions as positive. Personally, I’m pretty relaxed about that, given that I see the health impacts of smoking as more concerning than the idea of government regulation on tobacco and nicotine (or ‘nanny-state’, if that floats your rhetorical boat). But opponents of regulation and/or proponents of individual liberty might argue this would be but one link in a long chain of further restrictions on smoking.

Leon, over to you. Would people be justified in saying future regulation represents a slippery slope? And on a personal level, is that even a bad thing given that we’re talking about a harmful, but currently legal, drug?

Although I’m up for anything which reduces the harm of smoking, slippery slope arguments form an important part of the debate around regulation. There are reasonable concerns about how far the government should be encroaching on our freedoms.

Having said that, in the case of smoking regulation, slippery slope opposition might actually work in favour of those wanting more restrictions. After all, aren’t we supposed to be working towards eradicating smoking? Who doesn’t – even begrudgingly – support that end goal?

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