Posts Tagged ‘smoking’

Smoke and mirrors

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

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.