Tobacco ban for people born after the year 2000 passes Tasmanian upper house

Dangerous restriction on liberty, or "unslippery slippery dip"?

The Tasmanian legislative council, the upper house of the Australian state's bicameral legislature, has passed a motion calling for sales of tobacco to anyone born after the year 2000 to be banned. The law, if passed through the lower house, would result in an effective outlawing of tobacco around the year 2100 in the state.

The Telegraph reports:

The measure was proposed by Ivan Dean, a Tasmanian independent MP, who said the ban would be easy to enforce because the state already has restrictions on sales of cigarettes to minors. It would be the world's first such age-based ban and is also reportedly being considered in Singapore and Finland.

Mr Dean, a former police officer and mayor, said the ban would prevent young people "from buying a product that they can't already buy" but would not affect adult smokers.

"This would mean that we would have a generation of people not exposed to tobacco products," he said.

"It would be easier for retailers to enforce because when they ask for ID, all they would need to see if the person was born after the year 2000 ... As the generation reaches 18 years, there will be fewer of them smoking and while some of those first turning 18 might smoke, as time goes on fewer and fewer will."

The act is unlikely to make it through the entire legislative procedure, however: the Labor health minister is in favour of it, but their coalition partners in the state, the Greens are opposed, as are the opposing Liberal party. In fact, the motion likely only made it this far due to the unusually un-partisan nature of the Legislative Council – 13 of the 15 members are independent.

The idea addresses a point rarely considered in discussions around addictive substances, which is the fundamental unfairness of limiting access to something which people became addicted to fully legally. While the absolute ban may never come into place, it is certainly an example which our Labour government could have learnt from when they raised the age for smoking from 16 to 18, at a stroke criminalising two years worth of teens who became addicted to tobacco entirely legally. How much fairer would it have been to push for a ban for anyone born after 1 October 1991 for two years, and only then raising the minimum age to 18?

The Telegraph piece does also have one of the more fantastic expert opinions in recent history. Addressing the idea that such a ban could also lead to bans on things like alcohol or fatty foods, Professor Simon Chapman argues that a tobacco is far more deadly than other products, and thus:

If the slope is slippery, it's the most unslippery slippery dip I have ever seen in my life.

The risks of smoking are just so off the table ... We started banning tobacco advertising in 1976 and there has been no other commodity where there has been anything like a serious move to do what we have done with tobacco.

A gentleman enjoys a cigarette at an Australian motorsports event. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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