Smoke and mirrors

Smokers are fighting back, claims Forest, the pro-cancer lobby “voice and friend of the smoker”. The ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces is, they say, ruining lives of people who should have the right to choose.

I was once on their side. Sure, smoking kills, nastily, and is poisonous and smelly in a way that would make other habits like, say, kipper curing or taxidermy a bad choice for a pub-based activity. But it had become normal behaviour, and to legislate against it was to interfere with one’s freedom to harm oneself provided it doesn’t unduly affect others.

Then, as the ban came into force, I realised that there is nothing normal about a smoky atmosphere. I was no more imposing my will upon smokers by enjoying a smoke-free environment than they had been imposing their will on me amid a cancerous fog.

I had accepted smoking because although it made everything slightly less pleasant, it was too abstract and too normalised to allow me to complain about it without resembling a health fascist.

Now the boot is on the other foot, and smokers who whinge about their predicament sound like hopeless addicts whose social lives have been ruined by their own bloody-minded inability to go outside occasionally. Forest, in a press release noting the social impact of the smoking ban, gives voice to a 37-year-old engineer whose lament is hard to read without hearing maudlin violins in the background.

“Prior to the ban I was a regular pub goer and member of a local pub pool team. All of that has ended. I now visit the pub around once or twice a month at best. Prior to the ban I only ever drank alcohol in the pub. Now we buy in a couple of boxes every time we visit the supermarket and have even invested in a drinks cooler.”

Hardship indeed, but if his need to smoke is so severe that it prevents him from playing pool then hopefully the ban will help him to put his life in perspective. He goes on to say that the ban has driven him to contemplate hosting a number of barbecues. Not exactly a dystopian future, is it?

One smoker I met regarded the ban as the first curtailment of civil liberties that would inevitably lead to a banning of all pleasurable activity including, he said ominously, drinking. It’s a bogus comparison because harmful as drinking can be, it is not bad in moderation and does not directly harm others in excess unless it is combined with violence or driving, which can be punished in their own right.

Is it the tip of the iceberg, as he suggested? I suspect that it is, less frighteningly, the entire iceberg.

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8 Responses to “Smoke and mirrors”

  1. yarb Says:

    Forest have always been a comedy troupe, but this is lenten stuff even for them.

    Some truly heart-wrenching tales. One Alan Lightbown-Whalley (!) writes dolefully to the Lancashire Telegraph: “The pubs, clubs and restaurants have already lost my business because, being a long-term smoker, I choose my right to smoke. Do you know what? I don’t miss those places in any form. As a matter of fact, I’ve saved a fortune by not going out (and in the case of restaurants, home-cooked does taste better and I can even have a cigarette between courses).”

    Various people talk about how they are now forced to take more holidays abroad.

    “Life is barbaric” claims Amanda. I believe Somalia is still smoker-friendly?

    Although I’m in favour of the ban, I think there is a nasty streak of puritanism in the anti-smoking movement, so it’s sad that those against can’t find a more coherent or persuasive voice than Forest.

  2. pouletnoir Says:

    I would be more worried about the nasty puritanical element of the anti-smoking lobby if pubs weren’t so much more pleasant than they used to be. I was genuinely surprised at the improvement.

    But yes, Somalia is indeed very libertarian when it comes to smoking legislation, as it is to anything that would require rule of law to enforce.

  3. yarb Says:

    These things do creep, though. The city where I live has been ahead of most places in the prohibition of smoking. A recently-passed bylaw prohibits smoking within 6 metres of a public doorway. Technically (though not enforced (yet)) this includes smoking while walking down a commerical street (since all doorways are within 6m of eachother) and – get this – apartment balconies.

    Confined spaces; ok. But road traffic emits far more noxious and unpleasant fumes than do perambulatory smokers. Next targets (according to lobby groups) are beaches and homes with children.

  4. pouletnoir Says:

    Local government can be wretched, especially when it comes to “won’t somebody think of the children” bylaws. On the bright side, the six-metre rule will be virtually impossible to enforce. The pub legislation is efficient because landlords must enforce it or face losing their licences, but there is no equivalent incentive for anyone to accost smoking pedestrians. There aren’t enough licensing officers to make any difference and the police won’t intervene because it is not a criminal offence.

  5. yarb Says:

    It doesn’t need official enforcement – the bylaw serves to support the surprisingly large segment of society whose rank intolerance and eagerness to take offence needs only the sanction of the authorities to be unleashed against any given minority (of which in this case I’m not part). I’ve already seen a passerby hectoring a smoker who maybe wasn’t the full 6m – “could you move? that’s not six metres. Don’t you know this is illegal now? Etc etc”.

    Just because a law (local or federal) isn’t officially unforced, doesn’t mean it’s just or even benign. The current UK position seems fair to me, but if there isn’t further prohibition within 5-10 years I’d be surprised. Beaches? Fuck off!

  6. yarb Says:

    oops – e, not u

  7. pouletnoir Says:

    Feck off?

  8. yarb Says:


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