Nattering nabobs of nanny negativism

Manly Council, the local authority for the beachside area in Sydney where I spent the first 29 years of my life, has just banned smoking on its beaches. Mayor Peter MacDonald (a local doctor and former left-leaning Independent State MP) is quoted as saying:

“I guess this is a bit of trailblazing but the important thing that’s going to come out of it is it ‘denormalises’ smoking,” Dr Macdonald.

“Tobacco companies have been putting out the message for years that smoking is normal. “This is about saying smoking is not acceptable, it’s not normal behaviour; there’s a subtle educational effect.

The News Online story on the same event also notes that some beachside local councils ban volleyball, cricket, touch football and frisbee-throwing on the beach!! The Nanny State is bad enough, but the Nanny Municipality is a large step too far. Next they’ll be banning sunbaking (because of the UV exposure danger) and swimming (because you might get eaten by a shark).

And what does MacDonald mean when he claims smoking is “not normal behaviour”? He obviously disapproves of it, but that doesn’t make it abnormal, any more than the fact Fred Nile disapproves of homosexuality makes it abnormal either. A 1995 ABS study showed that some 30% of Australians between age 18 and 24, and 24% of adults overall, were smokers. The percentages may now vary a bit from those figures of almost a decade ago, but they’re still bound to show a pretty significant percentage of smokers. It’s rather stretching the meaning of “abnormal” to apply it to an activity engaged in by a quarter of the population.

I gave up smoking almost a decade ago, after more unsuccessful attempts than most people have had hot dinners. The adverse health effects of repetitive exposure to passive smoking in confined spaces are now fairly well proven, and I personally find the smoke and odour extremely objectionable and unpleasant. I don’t have a problem with banning smoking in confined spaces, but beaches, sporting fields and public streets are a different matter. There is no documented evidence that casual exposure to cigarette smoke in open spaces has deleterious health effects on others. I would still find the waft of smoke in my face unpleasant, but on the moderate libertarian approach to which I generally subscribe, that isn’t enough to ban the activity. No activity should be banned unless it significantly infringes the rights of others.

Nevertheless, pondering about the wide range of activities that local council beach inspectors (professional lifeguards) will now be required to police brought back some mostly pleasant memories. It’s one of the symptoms of advancing age, I suppose, this increasing tendency to reminisce about the “good old days”. I had a university vacation job as a Beach Inspector at Collaroy, employed by Warringah Shire Council (next door to Manly), throughout my law studies in the 1970s. Although it could get a bit boring at times, Collaroy being a very weedy beach with small surf most of the time, in many ways it was the best job I ever had. On the other hand, my naturally pale skin would probably have resulted in my contracting fatal melanoma if I’d kept doing the job permanently. One of my best mates, Brett Montgomery, met exactly that fate, and he had a much more olive complexion than mine. Nevertheless, I knew some beach inspectors who did that job throughout every summer, and then spent the entire winter at Perisher or Thredbo as ski instructors (or lift operators if they couldn’t master a convincing fake Swiss or German accent).

One of the numerous advantages of being a beach inspector in those days was that the Council By-Laws prohibited topless sunbathing by women. In addition to putting out the swimming flags and other signage; keeping surfboards and body surfers separated; rescuing idiots who ignored the flags anyway; and administering first aid; my duties included policing the topless sunbathing by-laws. Even in those days, however, my libertarian instincts were well-developed, and my enforcement methods consisted of inviting topless young women to decamp to the top deck of the local surf club where they could sunbake topless without breaking the law. Coincidentally, the top deck was where we beach inspectors exercised our tirelessly vigilant search for sharks, drowning swimmers, and topless bathers with nice tits (not necessarily in that order).

collaroy.jpg
* Photo by Dave Tozer, who sells framed panoramic shots of every one of Sydney’s northern beaches. I might buy some when I’m down there at Christmas. It still feels like home.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2022 years ago

I’ve checked Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man and nowhere does it say that man has a right to smoke on a public beach. Ergo, Dr McDonald is right.

But who should enforce the law? I think that the doyen of the Manly beaches, the incomparable Rex Mossop, should be given the job.

Who can forget that Rex, a quarter of a century ago, enforced the laws against nude bathing by making citizens arrests of the offenders?

As he said at the time, “we don’t want male genitals and female genitals stuffed down our throats”.

Indeed we don’t.

Nor do we want the odour of Winfield Blue wafting into our nostrils as we catch a few rays.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

Just watch, these nanny-state councils will change their tune once a protected Great White is spotted basking offshore, savouring a Cuban cigar (insert Kerry Packer joke here).

Besides, if the good Lord didn’t want us to smoke on beaches, he wouldn’t have made them such perfect ashtrays.

David Tiley
2022 years ago

I think the ban is silly. However, public copulation is prohibited on beaches too. What is it about this activity which is different? I imagine 24% of the adult population would either do it or watch it; no practical harm is done to others; if the personal dislike evoked in the minds of others is an argument then I don’t want people to smoke in public because I dislike it.

I have a dog. I don’t see why she should be forced off the beach in the summer. Most people find her cuban cigars hilarious, and she is an ace shark biter as well.

wen
wen
2022 years ago

David,

I just know you use that poor dog as a decoy — no doubt you make her swim out front & inhale all the noxious cigarette fumes….too cruel.

Anyway — constable s. is considering signing up for beach patrol & moving back. Wonder what the beach police’ll wear. Speedos & holsters? — yuk.

wen
wen
2022 years ago

The photo made me feel a little homesick too, Ken. I can just smell the weed….. I lived in Collaroy from 12 -15, and then again for a few years before we moved here. The four of us lived in a two room shack at the back of my Gran’s house (in the basin) while we waited waited waited for a transfer. It was cramped & horrible, & my husband worked at the cross, so it meant long, long days for him — but the water, & that walk around Long Reef made it all okay….

Paul Watson
2022 years ago

C’mon, Ken. The smoking ban is for littering reasons, and has little or nothing to do with the passive smoking argument, nor hence with the “Nanny State” line of reasoning. Using the beach as an ashtray is rank – and I can’t see any way short of stopping it, short of banning smoking on it.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Paul,

You’re probably correct that the principal thing they’re aiming at is leaving butts in the sand (although the quote from Peter MacDonald suggests otherwise). However, if you think about it for a minute, the ban doesn’t make sense in those terms. How are they going to enforce the law? Presumably only by a ranger or beach inspector observing a person smoking and issuing a fine. Leaving aside the difficulties involved in establishing the identity of a person clad only in speedos or board shorts, it would be just as easy for the inspector to observe the smokers for a minute or so longer, and then fine them for littering when they disposed of their butts in the sand. That could have been done under existing anti-litter regulations, and it wouldn’t penalise those smokers who DO dispose of their butts responsibly. The reality, of course, is that this is just “feel good” politically correct law-making that needlessly increases the amount of intrusive and effectively unenforceable regulation for little or no useful purpose.

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2022 years ago

Wen’s speedo and holster comment brought back a memory from years ago when I saw a video of a slection of busty females in bikinis firing off automatic weapons. Had a great name but I can’t recall it and it was too god to paraphrase.

chico o'farrill
chico o'farrill
2022 years ago

assuming James you are referring to a music video, I would suggest that “Bikini Girls With Machine Guns” by The Cramps provides the fond memory.

Made long before local council laws pertaining to same were dreamt of.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

The “Bikini Girls With Machine Guns” series.
Vol 3 has some fine work with a maillot and a very shapely Browning BAR.

Also title of a Cramps song.

Jacques Chester
Jacques Chester
2022 years ago

A classic public property problem. The “solution” is propertarian: smoke on your own property if you please, elsewhere you must respect the landowner’s wishes.

Since, unfortunately, the landowner is “the Public”, this just isn’t that simple. It’s a boundary issue.

ps: I promise I’m working on my Admin Law assignment.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

I thought you’d withdrawn in view of your invisibility at lectures and tutes. Feeling lucky?

CurrencyLad
2022 years ago

Next to go – traditional cricket without helmets, gloves, knee-pads and boxes?

The big mistake anti-smoking zealots make is to continually marginalise and render socially unacceptable what is in fact an entirely legal habit. The cultural power of cigarette smoking, like it or not, has always been its ‘cool’ association with rebelliousness. The more the young see old fogies on the TV banging on about the evils of smoking, the more inclined they are to see the habit as anti-social – that is, to the adolescent mind, cool. Sneaking a fag at the beach has now been made cool. Well done mullahs.

Wowsers and prohibitionists just never get it because in their minds such edict-making is really all about them and their own moral vanity.

David Tiley
2022 years ago

Here in St Kilda the ban proposed for our local beaches is clearly for littering reasons.

But we (to bang on about this one more time) have learnt to follow our dogs with plastic bags scooping scooping scooping as required in a public education and shaming campaign which has worked a treat.

Presumably the same thing can be done for butting out in the sand.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

Why butt out in the sand when you can nick ashtrays from Donovan’s, the Stokehouse or the St Kilda Sea Baths?

Jacques Chester
Jacques Chester
2022 years ago

Not withdrawn, Ken, just horribly embarassed. In any case I’ll try for the line anyhow, although having missed almost every lecture I don’t know what my odds are.