“Abusive and intrusive”: even Socialist MPs balk at proposed tobacco law

Vow to work “to smooth-out rough edges”

The government’s latest plans to restrict smoking are causing ructions, even within the PS Socialist Party.

Proposed legal changes – which many believe have been ‘introduced’ to deflect attentions from matters a great deal more essential – have been labelled ‘abusive, and intrusive’ by various names on the Socialist bench, including former health minister Marta Temido.

Elsewhere, commentators have quipped that people who are overweight are not stopped from eating, or frequenting restaurants – why should smokers be banned from smoking in the open air, and from buying cigarettes when they fill up with fuel?

The varoius new restrictions are due to be debated in parliament (where PS Socialists have an absolute majority). It is there that Público suggests certain MPs will be trying to push through changes (“smooth out the rough edges”, says the paper) not least when it comes to the plan to drastically limit tobacco sales outlets. If this part of the law goes forwards, there are communities where smokers say they will be forced to travel up to 18 kms to purchase cigarettes/ tobacco. Critics believe the situation would open the floodgates to ‘contraband’.

Alexandra Leitão, a PS backbencher formally in government, stresses that she is all for rules to protect passive smokers, “but the State should not protect people from themselves, as long as they are adults, lucid and with self determination. That’s the red line: I am against prohibitions to conform behaviour through prohibitions. It is a paternalistic and excessively prohibitionist vision”, she tells Público.

Maria António Almeida Santos, the PS vice-president of the health commission, is equally sceptical, stressing the “repressive way hasn’t shown itself to work (before)… She actually labels the proposals “a bit far fetched and counter-productive”; far-fetched certainly fitting with the narrative that this is a topic to take people’s minds of ‘what is really going on’ (or not) in government.

The PS party’s vice-chairman, Francisco César, has said he sees the banning of smoking on beaches, for example, as “an exaggeration”.

Up till now, Health minister Manuel Pizarro has managed to look surprised by all the fuss, insisting the proposed law is not one “against people who smoke”. The idea, he says, is to reach 2040 with no new generations picking up the habit. And besides, ‘this is just the government of Portugal enacting an EU directive…’

Constitutionalists nonetheless have stressed the whole plan is unconstitutional: ‘no one should be forced to live a healthy life; it is a matter of individual choice’, professor in Constitutional law Jorge Pereira da Silva explains.

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