The publication this morning of the Liberal Democrat manifesto is an opportunity to compare the parties' policies on tobacco control. Except that it's not because apart from UKIP, the various manifestos are remarkably free of specific policies.
Essentially the voter is being asked to give the next government carte blanche to do pretty much what it wants in the name of health, especially the health of our children (as if the state, rather than the parent, is directly responsible).
If we complain about bans on smoking in parks (and other public spaces) or cars (and other private spaces), they will no doubt point to some anodyne sentence in their manifesto and say: "Look, you voted for this." Indirectly.
As far as the smoking ban is concerned, only Labour makes the firm declaration that "The ban on smoking in public places will be maintained". Don't get too excited, though, because UKIP is the only party committed to amending the ban: "UKIP supports designated smoking rooms in pubs, clubs and public buildings". Fair play to UKIP (and indeed Labour), you can't be clearer than that.
Of the manifestos published to date, here's how the parties stand:
No mention of further tobacco controls, but that doesn't mean Labour won't introduce more regulations. In fact, you can depend on it. In the words of the manifesto:
We all have a responsibility to look after our own health, supported by our family and our employer. The ban on smoking in public places will be maintained. Wherever necessary, we will act to protect children's health from tobacco, alcohol and sunbeds.
Prevention of illness is a common mantra in this election. Reading between the lines, expect more regulation on tobacco and alcohol, if only to "nudge" us to change our habits:
Lifestyle-linked health problems like obesity and smoking, an ageing population, and the spread of infectious diseases are leading to soaring costs for the NHS. At the same time, the difference in male life expectancy between the richest and poorest areas in our country is now greater than during Victorian times.
We will turn the Department of Health into a Department for Public Health so that the promotion of good health and prevention of illness get the attention they need. We will provide separate public health funding to local communities, which will be accountable for - and paid according to - how successful they are in improving their residents' health.
Again, nothing specific in terms of tobacco. Like the Tories, the Lib Dems want to offer financial rewards to those who "prevent" illness:
Give priority to preventing people getting ill by linking payments to health boards and GPs more directly to preventing measures.
Alert: only the Scottish Nationalists have a section dedicated to smoking and what it calls "Creating a smoke free Europe", but at least they're open and honest about it:
Preventing smoking in public places is an important step to creating a smoke free, healthier Scotland and the SNP is working in partnership with our European neighbours in the fight against tobacco. In addition to the Scottish Government’s smoking prevention action plan, a number of initiatives have been taken at a European-wide level and the SNP will continue to work with the EU to make sure that future initiatives are powerful tools in creating a smoke free Europe.
Those lovely Welsh nationalists "demand" more power to regulate on issues such as tobacco vending machines. Give them an inch and they'll take a mile, for sure:
We demand devolved powers to legislate on other health-related matters such as sun beds, cigarette vending machines and the regulation of alcohol pricing.
Alone amongst the parties, UKIP is calling for an amendment to the smoking ban. Fair play to UKIP for sticking to its guns on this issue. What a pity that the best the party can hope for is a single seat in Westminster. According to its manifesto:
UKIP realises that the local pub is a unique part of British community life, but it is under serious threat from supermarket price undercutting, brewery company indifference and the smoking ban. UKIP supports designated smoking rooms in pubs, clubs and public buildings.
For completeness only, I include the BNP. Actually, I don't think the party has published its manifesto yet but on its website it declares - again without being specific - that:
More emphasis must be placed on healthy living with greater understanding of sickness prevention through physical exercise, a healthier environment and improved diets.
No mention of the smoking ban and, frankly, I hope it stays that way. Nothing, not even a commitment to amend or repeal the ban, would encourage me to vote BNP.
The Green party publishes its manifesto tomorrow. As a left-leaning party not dissimilar in outlook to the SNP, expect a similar response to lifestyle habits such as eating, drinking, smoking and, of course, driving a car.
The Green party published its manifesto today and joined Labour in declaring that it would "support the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces". Needless to say they also want to increase taxes on alcohol and tobacco. "vote Green on May 6th for a fairer world," writes Green party leader Caroline Lucas. Fairer for whom, exactly?