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).
* 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.