Now that I’ve accidentally started this blog/journal, maybe I’ll continue.
It was the smoking ban that brought me here. And I guess that it’ll quite likely be the smoking ban about which I’ll continue to write. Because it’s something about which I’m quite obsessed. And that I’m extremely angry about.
Coming up on 2 years after the smoking ban came into force, on 1 July 2007, I’m still angry about it.
There are some simple reasons for that anger. Firstly, the British people didn’t want it. In opinion polls before the ban, the 70% of people wanted things to be left the same, or some restrictions put on smoking in public places. Only 30% (which is actually quite a lot) wanted a total ban. So this was a ban imposed in the face of public opinion. It seems public opinion doesn’t matter. And that’s undemocratic.
The second reason was that the Labour manifesto said they intended to ban smoking in pubs which served food, but not ones that didn’t.. I could have lived with that. I don’t particularly want to smoke while I’m eating – although a cigarette at the end of a meal would be welcome. So a promise was broken in imposing a complete ban.
I guess that a third reason was that there isn’t really any good reason for a ban. There isn’t any real health threat from tobacco smoke. Most studies of it show little or no threat. We have a ban because a considerable number of people don’t like the smell of tobacco smoke. And because the medical establishment and the WHO want to get people to give up smoking. And so the smoking ban is really a piece of social engineering. It’s highly authoritarian.
I wasn’t in the least bit interested in the smoking issue before this ban came into force. Smoking was just another thing I did. Like I drink tea. And enjoy a pint. And read books. I accepted that there was probably a risk in smoking. I never imagined for a moment that a British government would do something like ban smoking in all public places. And then start to move to force tobacco to be sold from under the counter. And then to start banning smoking in outside areas, and cars. What’s going on? Something has gone horribly wrong.
It also bothered me that there was so little debate about it. The movers and shakers who pushed for the ban were senior doctors, and pressure groups like ASH. The parliamentary debate was laughable. And once the ban came into force, there was no reporting of it in the mass media. There were no debates about it. There were no investigative studies. There weren’t even any polls. Smokers became non-people. And the smoking ban became a non-subject. As if it had never happened. It was Orwellian.
And then there were the ubiquitous No Smoking signs that sprang up everywhere, even in churches. And there were the anti-smoking TV ads,. One portrayed black smoke coming out of smokers. Another had a little girl with a hook through her lip. Another said: "If you smoke, you stink." If anyone had run that sort of campaign against Jews or blacks or gays, there would have been uproar. Instead, there wasn’t even a murmur. The depiction of smokers in these ads reminded me of nothing so much as the depictions of Jews in Nazi propaganda. This was fascism. This was Nazism. How could this be happening, here in Britain. Why was nobody noticing? Were they all blind?
The smoking ban, once in came into force, shattered pub communities. I used to go to my local pub every day, just for a quiet pint and a smoke, to gather my thoughts, relax and meditate. I could no longer do that after smoking was banned. It’s only possible to do that sitting outside. And sitting outside is only possible in summer. And the summer of 2007 was dull and wet and overcast. And so was the summer of 2008. And 2009 isn’t looking very much better. I simply stopped going to pubs in the winter. And so did lots of other people. Which is of course the reason why pubs started closing their doors shortly after the ban came into force.
I could go on. The smoking ban is not just about smoking. It’s about freedom and democracy and accountability. It’s about science and risk and health and medicine. It’s about truth and justice. It’s about friends and communities and social inclusion and exclusion. The smoking ban is about everything. It is connected to everything.
Which is why, in writing about the smoking ban, it’s possible to write about anything. Because it is connected to those things. It is related to those things.