All of this made it easier for those of us who discussed the proposed ban on television and radio. At the very least, we were able to make the public aware that the BMA's grasp of the science is weaker than is generally assumed. Readers of the Telegraph, the Independent, Spiked and Full Fact can consider themselves better informed than most.
But if relying on the absurd "23 times more toxic" canard was a blunder, I'm not so sure than calling for a total ban was also a cock-up. I tend to share the view of Simon Clark that it was a deliberate strategy.
My view, for what it’s worth, is that it’s tactical. The BMA’s declaration coincides with the second reading of Labour MP Alex Cunningham’s Private Members’ Bill which calls for a ban on smoking in private vehicles when children are present. It’s listed to be debated on Friday 25 November.
The BMA has possibly worked out that by calling for more extreme action, the coalition government may see a ban on smoking in cars with children as a reasonable compromise.
I may be right because, unknown to me (I have only just read it), the Huffington Post this morning published a piece by Dame Helena Shovelton, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, entitled Calls for a Ban on Smoking in Cars Are Welcome, but Action on Children Is Needed Now. (I assume that my article is intended to be a companion piece.)
As we know (and I respect them for it), the tobacco control industry is very well coordinated. Alex Cunningham, the BMA and the BLF are not working in splendid isolation. They will be working together, I'm sure, and privately they will all be singing from the same hymnsheet. First, a ban on smoking in cars with children, then a ban on smoking in all private vehicles.
By calling for the latter now the BMA is trying to make a ban on smoking in cars with children appear more liberal. They will be delighted with that, believe me, because they know that, after that, a ban on smoking in all vehicles is only a matter of time.
There are two routes to prohibition. One is to move incrementally—the salami slice approach—as is happening with alcohol advertising. The other is to appeal to the public's sense of compromise by making extreme demands. Back in 2003, The Lancet called on the government to ban the sale of tobacco completely in an editorial titled 'How do you sleep at night Mr Blair?' Although widely derided, this editorial opened an Overton window which made a total ban on smoking in 'public' places—which had previously been seen as the most extreme measure available—seem almost moderate.
Let there be no doubt. The BMA believes it is perfectly appropriate for the police to stop and fine adults for smoking a cigarette in their own car, even when no one else is in it. They have the ethics of a rattlesnake and will undoubtedly campaign for a total ban in the future, just as The Lancet will one day renew its call for tobacco prohibition. Compromise in anathema to them, but expect them to suddenly present themselves as compromisers in the next days and weeks.