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Should it be illegal to be a smoker and work in the Melbourne CBD?

There is a stunning proposal that Melbourne City Councillors are pushing for a total outdoor ban on smoking in all public places within the Council area. According to its advocates:

“The ban would extend to any public place that could in no way be considered a private place, so basically anything that is not private land, so that would include alfresco dining areas, outside office blocks, anything like that”

melbourne-smoking-mapLet’s be clear, the ban wouldn’t just apply to the CBD. It includes the whole of the City of Melbourne from the Royal Botanic Gardens to the South, the docks to the West and Flemington Racecourse to the North West. It also includes everything in between from the footpaths to the Yarra. Smokers could literally be on one side of Punt Road, South Yarra doing something entirely legal, and then jump on the other side and be a crook.

There are obvious problems with this proposal such as its impact on tourism. But the much bigger issue is the unenforceability. In a rare sign of measured commentary Quit Victoria spokesperson rebuked the proposal because “it would be difficult to enforce”.

Ordinarily the unintended consequence of this proposed smoking law would be that an enterprising individual would set up a for-profit smoker’s bar and/or lounge, like at airports, though they’d probably charge entry. But they are already banned.

So the outdoor smoking ban basically makes it illegal to be a smoker and work in the City of Melbourne. Banning smoking in all public places (so long as it remains a legal product) is completely unenforceable. The only way it could be enforced is with an army of local council officers acting as police.

SBS is currently screening Ken Burns’ documentary Prohibition on the US movement against alcohol in the early 20th Century. It’s definitely worth a watch. Having watched it recently it covers the numerous unintended consequences of banning previously legally products, such as the benefits to criminal gangs and making law abiding citizens into criminals. But the much more serious consequence is how prohibition decayed respect for the law.

It’s hard to see how the same wouldn’t occur with people engaging in a legal habit regularly sending a message that the black letter of law needn’t be respected.

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