Anyone who has been reading this blog will know that I am a very angry smoker. But how many smokers are as angry as I am? I often wonder about this. I generally guess that it’s about 10% of smokers that fall into the angry category.
I think that how angry any smoker is about smoking bans is probably almost entirely dependent on how much they smoke. If they smoke a lot, they hate smoking bans. If they don’t smoke very much, they don’t like smoking bans very much. If they hardly smoke at all, they don’t mind them in the least. Non-smokers fall into this last category.
Me, I smoke roll-ups and lose count of the number I smoke every day. But the total weight of tobacco used to be half an ounce a day. Or around 12.5 gm. How much I smoke depends on what I’m doing and how I’m feeling. If I’m sitting in a pub, I smoke. If I’m thinking hard about something, I chainsmoke. If I’m anxious or angry, I smoke a lot too. If I’m not doing anything much, I don’t smoke at all.
I think that how much people smoke also defines how they react to smoking bans. And I’ll put them in three categories again. Confirmed, moderate, and light.
Confirmed smokers – the angry and excluded
My half-ounce smoking habit isn’t, in historical terms, a heavy smoking habit. So I’ll call myself a confirmed smoker rather than a heavy smoker. I’m a confirmed smoker in the sense of having no wish to give up smoking.
Smoking bans fall hardest on confirmed smokers. For them, such bans completely destroy their experience of pubs and bars, and to some extent restaurants as well. And they respond by stopping going to them. Or they stand outside. Which is what I do. I haven’t had a single drink inside the River since the smoking ban came into force. I only ever sit outside on sunny days.
This category of smoker is the one most likely to feel excluded and angry. And I feel both of these. This country doesn’t seem like my country any more since the smoking ban came into force.
I could write – and do write – at great length about how I feel about the smoking ban. It utterly enrages me. And it’s an anger that doesn’t go away. Two years on from the imposition of the smoking ban, I’m still as angry about it as I ever was. In fact, now that I know that there’s no epidemiological justification for such bans, I’m even angrier.
Moderate smokers – the blitz spirit
I think that most smokers probably fall into the moderate smoking category. The smoking ban didn’t completely destroy their pub experience, and so they kept on going to pubs. They’d just go outside now and then for a cigarette. How long they spent outside depended entirely on how much they smoked.
I don’t fall into this category of smokers, but I’ve spent a bit of time with them. They sit in pubs, drinking and talking, and then one of them says, "Let’s have a cigarette," and they all troop outside and light up, smoke a cigarette, and then go back in again, to rejoin the non-smokers they left behind.
The moderate smokers don’t like the smoking ban, but they don’t find it unendurable. They grin and bear it. They soldier on. Theirs is a "blitz spirit", of taking whatever the huns throw at them, and enduring it without complaint. The moderate smokers don’t talk about the smoking ban very much. They go to pubs to drink and and talk, and smoking is about the third or fourth thing that matters to them. Many of them consider giving up smoking. Many of them do so. And many of them take it up again.
Non-smokers – the indifferent
The non-smokers either don’t notice the smoking ban, or they approve of it. In their view 1 July 2007 was a non-event in English history. Nothing happened that day. Most non-smokers don’t mind people smoking. If they did, they either stopped going to pubs long ago, or else they never went at all.
Most of the people that I know are non-smokers. Because most people don’t smoke. But many non-smokers are ex-smokers, who rather unwillingly gave up smoking out of fears for their future health. Many of them will occasionally smoke a cigarette in times of stress or anxiety, or smoke a cigar at the end of a dinner party. Comparatively few of them have never smoked cigarettes. Hardly any are smoke-hating antismokers.
The non-smokers are oblivious. They don’t really notice the change in the pubs. They don’t really notice the loss of custom. They don’t notice the widening social divisions.
The confirmed smokers and moderate smokers and non-smokers used to get along fine together. With the smoking ban, this conviviality came under stress.
When the confirmed smokers left, the pubs became emptier. How empty depended upon how many of the customers had been heavy smokers. If 90%, then 90% left, and the pub would close within a few months. If 10% were heavy smokers, then 10% left, and the pubs takings dipped a bit. If the rest were moderate smokers or non-smokers, there’d be collections of smokers outside pubs.
The social impact of the smoking ban fell most heavily on the heavy smokers. They became the most socially isolated. In my own case, this isolation is now near-total. But I’m a fairly self-reliant sort of guy. When I went to pubs, it was very often to sit in quiet meditation alone. I don’t really mind my hermit lifestyle too much. I can think a lot. But the social isolation probably fell very heavily on someone like Lawrence Walker. And no doubt upon others too.
For the remainder, which would generally be the majority, the social life of the pub would have become a bit quieter. And it would have become something of a fractured experience, as they forever trooped in and out the door. And it would have become a bit fractured for the non-smokers also, as their smoking friends would get up and walk out half way through a conversation.
There seems to have been the development of a new sort of arrangement, whereby people meet at a pub, enjoy its conviviality for one drink, and then go back to one of their houses to continue drinking and smoking. Some of the non-smokers left behind in the now half-empty pubs must have themselves felt socially excluded.
The divisions aren’t this simple, of course. The confirmed smokers were divided among themselves. Some of them were resigned. Some of them were angry. Some of them put a brave face on it all. Some of them were utterly defeated. So smokers are divided among themselves.
In such manner a bad law tears a society apart, and creates divisions where there were none before.