Monday, December 04, 2006

Up in smoke

Just to show that the stupidity of politicians knows no borders, comes this: The National Party MP for Northcote, Dr. Jonathan Coleman, got punched for smoking a cigar at a corporate box at a recent U2 concert in Auckland. The box was sponsored by British American Tobacco.

While there are differing versions of what happened, apparently Coleman lit a cigar offered by the BAT hosts, and he was punched by someone after he allegedly blew smoke in a woman’s face. He hasn’t directly denied that, but admits “words were exchanged”.

Coleman is a former GP, so he should be well-aware of the damage smoking causes and the dangers of second-hand smoke. Wouldn’t a medical doctor think twice about going to the corporate box of a tobacco company? Apparently not.

As it happens, last week National Party leader John Key promoted Coleman to associate health spokesperson, despite knowing about this incident. Key told the media, “He is a new MP, still learning to live his life under a microscope. Let's keep this in perspective.”

Coleman himself said, “As a first-time MP I'm living life in a goldfish bowl and it is a bit of an adjustment.”

So, accepting corporate gifts from a tobacco company wasn’t wrong, smoking in public wasn’t wrong—getting caught was the mistake. Typical.

One thing the media has been silent on is whether Coleman broke the law in lighting up. Smoking is banned in most public places now, including bars, restaurants and private clubs. Was he in an outside area when he lit up? If he was inside, that would seem to me to be a violation of the law.

One oddity in the coverage: While most mainstream media reports quoted
Mark Peck, the head of the Smokefree Coalition, criticising Coleman’s lack of judgement, the New Zealand Herald felt it needed to point out that Peck is a former Labour MP. Curious, that: They don’t seem to feel the need to point out the National Party affiliations of critics of Labour MPs.

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