Letters on Liberty: Freedom – Up in Smoke?

Battle of Ideas festival 2023, Sunday 29 October, Church House, London


Open debate has been suffocated by today’s censorious climate and there is little cultural support for freedom as a foundational value. What we need is rowdy, good-natured disagreement and people prepared to experiment with what freedom might mean today. Faced with this challenge, the Academy of Ideas decided to launch Letters on Liberty – a radical public pamphleteering campaign aimed at reimagining arguments for freedom in the twenty-first century.

In his Letter – Freedom: up in smoke? – writer and director of smokers’ rights group FOREST Simon Clark looks at the radical history of lighting up. From David Hockney to Syrian women smoking cigarettes in defiance of religious extremism, smoking can be an expression of personal and political freedom. Unfortunately, Simon writes, such freedoms are increasingly undermined by public-health measures, designed to control and regulate our behaviour beyond what he says ought to be reasonable.

Join Simon and respondents to examine the past, present and future of smoking – and whether or not the freedom to smoke is worth defending. Despite knowing the consequences of cigarettes – addiction, poor health and even death – why do so many still enjoy it? Does the glamorisation of smoking in the arts from James Dean to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag pose a problem for public health? Or should we accept that smoking – like drinking or sky-diving – is a risk we should be allowed to take?

Dr Piers Benn
philosopher, author and lecturer

Simon Clark
director, FOREST; author, Hands Off Our Packs: diary of a political campaign and Freedom: Up in Smoke?

Rick Moore
business owner, InControl; electronic engineer; deputy chair political, Blackburn Conservative Association

Ceri Dingle
director, WORLDwrite and WORLDbytes