Australia smoking ban: The 'nanny state' rule that deserves to be applauded

Australia: we love banning things. We must have more bans on things than almost any other country on the planet: small, insignificant things; big, consequential things; and most of the things in between.

We ban people from riding bikes without helmets. We ban people from crossing the street and not walking in a straight line. We ban people from drinking straight whisky after midnight. We ban people from doing the Mexican wave at a sporting ground.

Mostly, all of these heavy-handed bans drive me nuts. I go to other countries around the world and I'm jealous of the way they seem to be able to survive without the rules we have in Australia. People drink on the street, and ride bikes wherever they feel, and have live music venues near residential areas, and cross the street when it looks safe, and everything is fine.

Personal responsibility is taken into account. Citizens are trusted to do the right thing, and by and large they do.

So yes, Australia's nanny state attitude is annoying. The bans that get slapped on almost everything get on your nerves after a while.

See also: Australia - the great nanny state

There is, however, one ban that we've got right. There is one set of nanny-state rules that we have absolutely nailed, that you go overseas and you realise that we've got things bang on and you praise those who make the laws in our land – and those laws relate to smoking.

Australia has banned smoking pretty much everywhere: in restaurants, in pubs, in bars, outside government buildings, and probably plenty of other places that I, as a non-smoker, am not even aware of. We've also banned colourful packaging on cigarettes. We've banned the ability to buy those packets at a price that's even vaguely affordable.

And I say: bravo.

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I say this after visiting countries that don't have the same smoking ban. I say this after being in Berlin and walking into a bar and being engulfed in a cloud of smoke. You forget how being in a room full of cigarette smokers makes everything stink. You forget how your hair stinks, how your clothes stink, how you skin stinks for days and days afterwards.

I say this after hanging out at an izakaya in Japan, about to take a first bite of food, and then seeing this curl of smoke waft across the bar. Some guy over in the other corner has decided to light up, despite the fact no one else in the bar is smoking. You forget what it's like to pair your food with ciggie smoke, how you lose some of the taste and most of the smell of whatever delicious meal you have in front of you when all you're getting is tobacco.

I say this after travelling through south-east Asia and witnessing the sheer number of people there who smoke. It's phenomenal. Cigarettes are crazy cheap, after all; and everyone else is doing it. Why wouldn't you?

You forget that cigarette smoke just becomes part of your daily life in places like that. You smell it in bars and in restaurants, the rank scent of cheap tobacco; you smell it in your hotel room, lurking in the curtains; you smell it on public transport and out on the street and everywhere else in general life as the curling smoke and the stinky breath of thousands of people coalesces with smog and sweat and just becomes the air.

Australia used to be like that. Maybe not to the extent of some other countries you visit now, but it used to be very different here. You'd go out at night knowing your clothes and your hair would reek by the time you got home. You'd know your hangover would be that much worse the next morning because of all the ciggies.

People used to smoke on planes! It seems impossible to believe now, that you'd book your flights with smoking or non-smoking seats, but it happened, it was real.

In the Australia of today, however, smoking has all but disappeared. Barely anyone I know still smokes. I've had several people in several foreign countries say to me something along the lines of, "Oh you're Australian, so you don't smoke". It's noticeable to the rest of the world. The campaign has been a success.

The nanny state isn't always good. All those heavy-handed rules aren't always there to look after your best interests, regardless of what people say.

But when it comes to smoking, we've got things right. You only have to sit in a bar in Berlin or an izakaya in Japan or almost anywhere outside the Western world to see that.

Have you visited countries where people still smoke in bars and restaurants? Does it make you glad Australia changed? Post your comments below.

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

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