I was wondering this morning how smoking bans might have been introduced without using top-down legislative control.
It might have been quite easy. You could have just allowed pubs and restaurants to go ‘smoke-free’ if they wanted to. In Devon, where I was living back in 2007, one large pub I used to go to went ‘smoke-free’ in this manner two or three years before they were required by law to do so.
I stopped going, of course. They didn’t ban smoking in its spacious garden, however. So I used to occasionally go and sit in the garden, principally for the view that it had over miles of Devon countryside to the sea in the far distance.
I don’t remember it being plastered in no smoking signs. I somehow or other learned that it had banned smoking. I imagine that a lot of its customers probably only found out when they were politely asked to put out their cigarettes.
It was a pub that was ahead of its time in being a pub-restaurant. It was nobody’s local, because it was out in the middle of nowhere. So it had no regular customers propping up the bar. And no pool tables or dart boards or juke box. It just had lots and lots of different tables, of various shapes and sizes. I only ever went there with my parents, to eat in what had originally been its restaurant area, and which had gradually expanded to fill the entire pub. It could just as easily have become a snooker club, if it had one or two snooker tables which had gradually multiplied to fill it.
And it was a quiet pub. People talked quietly. It was possible to even imagine that, in addition to a smoking ban, they could have had a talking ban as well. Why not? There are talking bans in churches.
And after it had gone non-smoking, it seemed to prosper just as well as it had before. And this was because its customers went there to eat rather than to sit and drink and smoke and talk. They’d arrive, sit down at a table, order food, eat it, and then leave. That was all they wanted.
Pretty much all pubs have now been forced to adopt the same business model. Here in Herefordshire, all the pubs that I visit are pub-restaurants, although I mostly only visit them to sit in their gardens with a beer and a cigarette.
In the absence of a top down blanket smoking ban everywhere, I imagine that smoke-free pub-restaurants would have done as well as any other. But the small pubs in the towns, which would have a set of regular customers, and served no food, where people met to drink and smoke and talk, sometimes staying all evening, would have remained smoke-filled and noisy. Maybe, with smokers only 20% of the population, only 20% of pubs would have remained smoky. And if smoking prevalence fell to 10%, only 10% of pubs would have permitted smoking. In the end, maybe there’d be just one pub that still allowed smoking. And still allowed talking.
And nobody would have been “exiled to the outdoors”. There would have continued to have been somewhere for smokers to go to find their preferred environment. They would have remained welcome. They would have remained valued members of society until there were none of them left.
Of course it would have taken a lot longer that way. It may have taken 20 or 30 years for them to all go smoke-free. Maybe even 100 years. Or never.
But the antismoking zealots couldn’t wait that long. They wanted – and got – top down blanket legislation to ban smoking more or less everywhere. And I – along with every other smoker in Britain – was exiled to the outdoors, and expelled from society. And now I no longer feel welcome anywhere.
Pubs could have gone smoke-free of their own volition, in response to changing demands from their customers. They could have gone alcohol-free as well. Or music-free. Or talk-free. Or sugar-free. Or fat-free. Or meat-free. Or child-free. Or chair-free.
But for zealots, it’s always something they want now, not next year or the year after. And so when enough people have become vegetarians or vegans, you must know that one day there’ll be a meat ban imposed in all restaurants, just like there was a smoking ban imposed on them. And the meat-eaters will be forced to sit outside with their stinky bacon sandwiches, with hand-waving veggies squeezing past them to get inside. It’ll all be imposed in the name of Health, of course. Or maybe Saving The Planet.
Is it too hard to imagine a chair ban? In many pubs, there’s standing room only. For many years there was standing room only in many sport stadiums. And some people prefer to stand than to sit: when he was US Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld always stood at his desk. Is it too hard to imagine a time when the standers have begun to outnumber the sitters, and pubs and restaurants start going chair-free? Is it too hard to imagine a time when chairs are banned in all public places, and everyone has to stand. And all the benches in parks and railway stations are ripped out? And the seats from theatres and cinemas. And even the sight of their neighbours sitting out on their balconies becomes intolerable to eagle-eyed zealots? And chairs come plastered with health warnings (Sitting For Long Periods Causes Piles)? And there’s a chair tax, which is increased every year “to discourage people from sitting”? And the Secretary General of the WHO declares that it is their primary mission to fight the epidemic of chairs that has afflicted the world for far too long?
Mad? Yes, of course. But no more mad than what is already happening.