In 1985, a taxi driver—Richard Carless—refused to pick up a passenger from Heathrow airport because the man had just lit a pipe and intended to smoke it. The taxi driver had asthma. The passenger understood this and agreed to wait for the next cab. There is no suggestion that their conversation was anything but amicable. However, a passing traffic warden reported the taxi driver to the police who prosecuted him.
According to the Daily Mail:
Mr Carless said the man was happy to wait for the next taxi but a passing traffic warden spotted what happened and called the police.
What law this man had broken, I don't know. Is there some law saying that taxi drivers have to pick up everyone who hails them? Is it a condition of having a taxi license? Perhaps so. Whatever the case, it resulted in the taxi driver going to prison.
Richard Carless, 67, was locked up for seven days in July 1986 after turning down the passenger who wanted to light up in his car because he feared it would aggravate his asthma.
He refused to pay the £120 fine on a point of principle and was put behind bars.
The former taxi driver is now taking the case to the Court of Appeal, saying it ruined his life.
Once you get over the amusing idea of a former taxi driver being called Mr Carless, this story raises several issues. The obvious observation is to say how times have changed. Today, of course, the police would have prosecuted the taxi driver if he had allowed the man to get in his cab. He would be looking at a £2,500 fine for 'permitting smoking' in an enclosed place and could face, like Nick Hogan, a 6 month prison sentence. Indeed, only last week, two taxi drivers were prosecuted and fined for smoking in their cabs when nobody else was present.
If we look at the Daily Mail's comments section—not a senate of reason, admittedly—we find contrasting views. From this:
This is ridiculous. You people don't jail criminals yet you jail a man for refusing to carry a smoker. I can't stand smokers and I would have done the same as this man. Mr. Carless was right then and now.
- Latima, FL USA, 07/4/2010 13:45
oh the good old days! a time when we were responsible for our actions and not told how to live our lives by a nanny state
- IAND, LONDON, 7/4/2010 11:20
In the course of 24 years, we have gone from a system that effectively protects people's 'right' to smoke in a cab to one that prosecutes people for smoking in a cab (I can't quite believe that taxi drivers didn't have the right to designate their cabs as non-smoking in 1985, but anyway...)
People like the American above who "can't stand smokers" (not, you will note, smoking, but smokers) are no doubt delighted that the government's guns have turned 180 degrees and are now aimed at smokers. The chap from London clearly thinks that the old ways were the best.
Both of them, I would argue, are wrong. The law in 1985 was an ass. Far from making us "responsible for our actions" it intervened unfairly and unnecessarily in a private negotiation between a taxi driver and a potential customer. The taxi driver's terms were not to the customer's liking—he had just got off a flight and wanted to smoke—and the customer was happy to wait for a driver who would accept his terms. No one was hurt, or even upset, by this negotiation.
Today, that pipe-smoker would still be able to find a taxi driver who would take him where he wanted to go, but the law does not allow it. That's because the law is still an ass. No one would be hurt—the driver might ask him to wind the window down—and everyone involved in the transaction would be happy. As in 1985, the only people who would be unhappy will be distant bureaucrats and, perhaps, the odd interfering traffic warden.
There are no victims or villains in any of these 'crimes'. By prosecuting individuals for victimless crimes, the state itself is the villain. You do not—or rather should not—have a right to demand entry into private property. That, I'm afraid, also applies to bed and breakfasts, since bigots have property rights as well. Richard Carless took a stand against an unjust law and that should be recognised. Nick Hogan also took a stand against an unjust law. From their completely different perspectives, they have both suffered at the hands of the government despite harming no one.
Issues like the story above polarise debate. It's easy for some nonsmokers to rejoice that the state is now going after smokers. Equally, some smokers might be nostalgic for the days when the state, however inadvertently, went after nonsmokers. Upon sober reflection, we might conclude that all our interests would be better served if the state didn't 'go after' any of us.