"What kind of society do we want? One in which we are treated with respect as responsible adults where the means used to change behaviour are education and persuasion? Or do we want to live in an Orwellian world? A society in which we merely exist as disempowered, submissive subjects with every aspect of our lives regulated by an authoritarian nanny state that passes draconian laws to force us to do what it thinks is 'good for us'?"
This fundamental question was asked by Executive Director Leon Louw at the FMF media briefing which addressed how SA citizens can safeguard themselves from government "protection" in light of the proposed tightening of the liquor and tobacco laws. Louw drew alarming parallels between liquor laws used to control the behaviour of blacks during the years of apartheid and the approach being used by our current democratic government to curb "undesirable" behaviour. Louw said the laws are racist and driven by a disturbing and deeply rooted political and ideological belief that blacks cannot be trusted to be responsible for their own lives.
"Make no mistake," Louw warns, "our liberty is under attack. Once you accept the principle of government telling you what, how, when or where you can drink, smoke or eat, once they remove your decision-making ability, then there is no logical stopping point. Any government action to curtail freedom can be justified on the grounds that it’s 'for your own good'."
Louw stressed that the FMF’s opposition to the proposed regulations is not about drinking or smoking per se — personally, he seldom drinks, has never smoked and dislikes tobacco smoke as much as the next non-smoker.
"It is the steady and pernicious violation of liberty and freedom that the FMF finds disturbing and South Africans need to wake up before it is too late. Government’s desire to "help" people is no reason or excuse to curtail liberty. Where will it end?"
"Vices are not crimes," Louw said. "The proposed liquor laws will take us back to our most racist and oppressive past. All governments, not just ours, should stick to providing advice and guidance about the potential health risks of certain behaviour and consumption patterns. Why do politicians think people clever enough to vote for them are too stupid to follow their advice? It makes no sense to let people decide for themselves who to marry, whether to have children, what career to pursue, what religion to adopt, what surgery to have, let alone who to vote for, but not whether to have a smoke, cold drink or hamburger.
"There is no empirical evidence that intensified regulation reduces 'undesirable' behaviour," Louw said. "In fact, it revealed quite the opposite."
Both America’s prohibition era and SA’s own experience of township restrictions, radius laws and Sunday liquor licensing clearly demonstrated that over-regulation simply pushes drinking underground.
In the UK in the 1970s, after a sustained and compelling government campaign about the detrimental health effects of tobacco, the smoking rate fell dramatically by 50 percent. When laws restricting consumption were introduced, no further decline was seen. Louw questioned the validity of the data which purported to show that legislation gets results because it was survey based and relied on individuals telling the truth about their drinking and smoking habits.
Louw doubted whether the laws were enforceable and whether the people who had drafted them had given any thought to the practical implications. Just from a quick read of both the proposed liquor and tobacco regulations it was clear that much of the text was open to misinterpretation and many terms were not explained. In fact, the proposed regulations made a mockery of the rule of law.
If we want to live in a society made up of free, emancipated, responsible citizens, for our own good, Louw urged, we have to stop being submissive and be aware of what government has up its sleeve.