DUNCAN BARKES Total smoking ban could turn into a really burning issue

On Tuesday a small town in Buckinghamshire will see its town council debate a total smoking ban in public places. If the proposal is successful it will be the first ban of its kind. It will also pave the way for other councils to attempt to do likewise.

The suggestion has come about as a result of the Localism Bill. Such a move should be a positive development, but this specific proposal in Stony Stratford has sinister undertones.

My opposition to the existing smoking ban is well documented, but I believe this proposal goes far deeper than the smoking debate.

It raises the much bigger question of whether councillors should be able to dictate how we live our lives.

The proposal, put together by a lone Independent councillor, would see smoking banned in parks, streets and any public space.

If caught, a smoker would be issued with a fixed penalty notice by a Police Community Support Officer. If the town council agrees to impose a ban, Milton Keynes Council will be asked to use its powers to introduce a law.

I fully understand the frustration and disgust some people feel when confronted by smokers in the street. When my daughter was a baby I used to want to whack them. Hard.

The selfish puffers didn’t seem to give a fig for the fact that as they walked along the pavement, they were holding their revolting fags at pushchair level, causing smoke to waft directly at my little girl.

But even if you are a staunch anti-smoker, and so feel inclined to applaud this proposal, think twice before you start hanging out the bunting.

I believe banning smoking in all public places sets a dangerous precedent.

If the argument is to protect people’s health, then one can extend the same logic to banning certain foods, the riding of motorbikes and the sale of alcohol.

If this ban is approved it will open the floodgates, allowing those who seem hell-bent on controlling how we live to flex their dictatorial muscles.

It also takes us a step closer towards being told what we can and cannot do in our homes.

My hope is the British sense of fair play will prevail, but there are no guarantees. All too often it’s those who shout the loudest who get what they want.

The Localism Bill should be a good thing, but I think its introduction needs to go hand in hand with local referendums. If a council wants to introduce a new law then it should let the people decide if it wants it.

Two questions for you:

Would you like a smoking ban in your town?

Do you support the idea of local referendums, where local people decide on an issue based on the weight of the argument?

I would be really interested to hear your thoughts.

* Congratulations to all those who worked so hard to make last weekend’s Med Fest at West Dean Gardens such a splendid event.

A celebration of all things Mediterranean, if you missed it then you missed a real treat.

There’s a whole heap of terrific events lined up for the rest of the year – visit www.westdean.org.uk for more info.