It is becoming less and less socially acceptable to bully people nowadays. Picking on people because of their physical appearance, opinions or intelligence is frowned upon.
But there are some people who remain fair game – smokers. Which is why, anywhere you see a smoker, you will find a bully lurking not far away.
Like a lot of bullying, it starts with segregation. Smokers were long ago forced into ever more isolated areas of our bars and restaurants. Then they were forced outside, and it has now reached the point where even standing in the cold and rain is not permissible if it's near children, on a beach or whatever new place the bullies have nominated as being out of bounds. Even when they go home, some are not allowed to smoke in their own apartments if a bully neighbour disapproves.
Lighting up is also forbidden at train and bus stops, with more than 5,000 bailed up and asked to hand over $300 to the NSW fun police over the last couple of years.
As I pointed out in the Senate recently, perhaps smokers are used to this kind of theft, because they already pay an exorbitant amount of tax for their sins; something like 17 times the health and other costs that they impose on the public. They have the second most expensive cigarettes in the world with the government collecting some $8 billion in taxes from them every year, a huge impost on many lower income people who want to enjoy a simple pleasure.
It is at this point that I should say what must be said: smoking is bad for you and I don't recommend it. I don't smoke myself. Similarly, passive smoking is not recommended, although there are valid questions about whether it's as bad as the bullies paint it.
But we all face risks from just about everything around us, every day. And there is little or no risk from somebody smoking at a bus-stop. In fact, if this were a risk worth worrying about, we would not be standing at bus stops at all because, as the World Health Organisation has noted, diesel fumes from trucks and buses are one of the worst sources of air pollution in cities.
Since making my speech where I thanked smokers for their contribution to our taxation revenue, I have received some rather unhinged feedback from members of the public, much of it threatening, by people who feel they have a licence to go outside the normal bounds of civilised debate.
What this demonstrates is that the worst kinds of bullies are those empowered by the state, because the bullied then have no place to go for protection.
I am proud to give smokers a voice in parliament, to support their right to choose whether to smoke, to be the sole politician willing to meet with and receive donations from tobacco companies, and I will not be shutting up about it any time soon. Bullies or not.
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