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Smokers under fire - and not just in Redbridge

Neil Rafferty, a spokesman for the smokers lobby group Forest, says its not just Redbridge Council to have shown anti smoking zealotry.

Often the smoking debate seems to be confined solely to the national stage where the extremist agenda is driven by the Department of Health and its agents at ASH (Action on Smoking and Health). But it is at the local council level where much of the most fevered anti-tobacco policy making is taking place with local councillors increasingly determined to outdo their national party bosses when it comes to extending the
reach of the Bully State.

Redbridge Council in Greater London is the latest to join the anti-smoking brigade with its cruel and irresponsible decision to ban smokers from fostering children. Not only will this exclude some excellent foster parents from the system and deny vulnerable children a truly transformational experience - a point forcibly made by the Fostering Network - but it also transmits the insidious message that smokers in general are not fit to be parents.

How long will it be before Redbridge excludes overweight people from fostering because they set a bad lifestyle example? And all this based on the now tiresomely predictable scaremongering about passive smoking using selective statistics and transparent exaggeration. And perhaps most worryingly for those of us who believe in personal freedom and have watched it being relentlessly assaulted by the Labour government, Redbridge is a Conservative council.

The picture is depressingly similar across the UK. Some councils (notably Birmingham, Barnsley and North West Leicestershire) have already discussed banning smoking outside pubs and on the street. Teeside Council is to outlaw smoking at bus stops, children's play areas, parks and football pitches. Derwentside Council in Co Durham has banned smoking in municipal parks and playgrounds. In Wales, Pontypridd has banned smoking around play areas while in Scotland councils in Dundee and East Renfrewshire are equally keen to prohibit lighting-up in public parks.

Of course, Liverpool City Council has been a leading member of the anti-smoking movement for years. Long before the national ban on public smoking was introduced, Liverpool wanted to introduce its own unilateral no-smoking policy, and earlier this year SmokeFree Liverpool made national headlines when it called for films that feature people smoking to be given an 18 certificate. This would mean that Casablanca, The Great Escape and even 101 Dalmations would be confined to the "adults only" section or screened after the 9pm watershed. The same group is using public money to make the truly absurd claim that secondhand smoke is one the main causes of premature death in the city.

Councillors defend such extremism by saying it's all about "protecting the children" - the familiar excuse from those determined to steal our liberties. They don't seem to care that these same children will grow up in a country where many personal freedoms are a distant memory. Perhaps they really do believe that they know what is best for the rest of us and they will an engineer a community of perfect citizens through the wise and careful application of local by-laws.

It shouldn't have to be this way. The Conservative party claims to be the party that supports individual freedom and property rights. Yet many Tory councillors are just as bad as their socialist and illiberal counterparts when it comes to issues such as smoking and drinking. Like Labour and the Lib Dems, the Tories think they know what's best for us and to hell with common sense and fair play.

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