Perhaps the most telling event of my visit to Spain took place shortly after I’d got back to England. I’d met up with a friend of mine for a dinner at a restaurant, and at the end of it he pulled out a packet of cigarettes and fingered one, saying how he’d like a smoke. And I said that if he was in Spain, he could smoke one, and no-one would bat an eyelid. And I started rolling a cigarette to take outside. Next thing I knew my friend had stood up and was waving his arms around frantically. It took me a few seconds to figure out why: once I’d rolled the cigarette, I’d simply put it in my mouth and lit it, in the middle of a crowded Indian restaurant. I just did what came naturally. I hadn’t planned on doing it. If he hadn’t drawn my attention to it, I probably wouldn’t have noticed for a minute or two.
That wouldn’t have happened a week ago. And it showed how easily two and a half years of conditioning under Britain’s draconian anti-smoking regime was erased by just five days in Spain. It takes an effort to not smoke. A smoker has to keep on telling himself, "No, I mustn’t smoke". It requires constant self-denial to not smoke. It’s much easier to just light a cigarette. And that means that smoking is the default activity, the natural activity for smokers. It’s what they will do, left to themselves. If the pressure to not smoke ever relaxes, smokers will go back to smoking. It takes a really big effort by smokers to not smoke. And they’ll give up making the effort given half a chance. Or a few days in Spain.
It’s a rather strange thought, but the British smoking ban only works because British smokers make it work. They work very hard at making it work, saying No to themselves all day. And two and a half years into the ban, they have to work just as hard as they did on day one of the ban. It doesn’t get any easier.
If antismokers hoped that, after several years of restraining themselves, smokers would find that not smoking came naturally, they’re profoundly mistaken. Smoking remains the default, natural activity for smokers. And it takes a continual effort on their part to not smoke. Non-smoking doesn’t come at all naturally. And that means that smoking bans are very fragile things, that can all too easily come apart. Smoking bans are sandcastles: they look solid, but from the moment they’re constructed they’re starting to fall down. They require a continual effort of repair to prevent them reverting to the natural state of sand.
Why do Britain’s smokers go on doing restraining themselves? Well, because it’s against the law, mostly. But also because they half believe that passive smoking really does kill people. And if it doesn’t kill anyone, it’s because they have been told that it’s an antisocial pastime. And it’s also because they feel they really should give up smoking, like so many people they know have done. And it’s because they’re convinced that the future will non-smoking, and smoking will soon be as much a thing of the past as spitting or keeping pet dogs. And it’s also because they’re ashamed to be smokers.
So while Britain’s smokers believe all this nonsense, they’ll carry on restraining themselves, and carry on telling themselves No a couple of hundred times a day. And it really is all nonsense. Passive smoking doesn’t kill anybody: even the lousy antismoking studies say so. Nor is it that smoking is an antisocial pastime: it’s the antismokers who are the real antisocial killjoys. And would smokers feel any need to give up smoking, if they were to find out that the research into active smoking is so much junk science as well? And why should they admire anyone who has given up smoking, if giving up smoking simply entails saying No to yourself for the rest of your life. And why on earth should they believe that the future is non-smoking, when all the historical evidence is that smoking bans fail whenever they’re tried? And why should they be ashamed of being smokers, when so many of their illustrious forebears were smokers? Like Winston Churchill. Pablo Picasso. Albert Einstein. And tens of thousands of others. Millions of them.
Smokers carry around all these illusions about smoking. But they’re really the victims of a gigantic confidence trick. One that’s been perpetrated by the medical establishment and anti-smoking organisations over many decades using sophisticated propaganda techniques. It’s taken a colossal effort to fool smokers into restraining themselves from smoking. And if that effort ever eases up, if the propaganda ever ceases, smokers will rapidly revert to doing what comes naturally – smoking.
Bans fail because the effort needed to maintain the illusion becomes too great. Smokers know perfectly well that their smoke harms no-one. They also know that it doesn’t even harm them (they wouldn’t smoke if they believed it did). And they know that smoking is a socially inclusive practice, as smokers are bound together in an enveloping mantle of smoke. And smokers don’t really admire people who’ve given up smoking: they don’t want to be naysayers forbidding themselves from every pleasure in life. And it takes an enormous barrage of unrelenting propaganda for smokers to be made to forget all these things they know, and to erase their personal knowledge. And that personal knowledge is always eating away at the false, artificial, propaganda-induced ‘knowledge’ that has usurped their true knowledge, their natural common sense. Switch off the propaganda, and that common sense will gradually come to the fore again, and will prevail over manufactured knowledge.
Most likely the smoking ban will fail when smokers cease to believe the lies they’ve been told. And they are always ceasing to believe those lies. It takes a constant rain of propaganda lies to keep them from reverting to their natural state. And once smokers cease to believe the lies they’ve been told, at the same time they cease to have any incentive to restrain themselves from smoking. And when they cease restraining themselves, they’ll start to spontaneously light up, just like I lit up in that Indian restaurant last night. And when they see people no longer restraining themselves from smoking, other smokers will cease to restrain themselves as well. Whole pubs will suddenly start smoking overnight. And other nearby pubs will rapidly catch the bug.
At a pub earlier in the evening I got talking about smoking to one of the drinkers. He agreed that the research showed there was little or no threat from passive smoking. He said pubs should be allowed to choose to be smoking or non-smoking. But he said that while he liked smoking, he didn’t like being a smoker. It wasn’t a good thing to be these days. So here was a smoker who was ashamed of being a smoker. And he also said that things would only get worse. So here was another smoker who could see the future with 20-20 foresight, and the future was non-smoking. He’d broken through one or two illusions, but he remained entangled by the rest of them. If he could have become a proud smoker again, and dispensed with the imaginary smokefree future which held him spellbound, he’d have been at the point of spontaneously lighting up.
I think I’m going to start constructing a new future. It’ll be one in which everyone smokes. Children too. And it’ll be a future in which the antismokers have had all their lies exposed, and they’ve all been rounded up and shot. Or maybe not shot. Just hanged. And everyone will wonder why they went along with the madness for so long.