It occasionally crosses my mind that life would be much simpler for me if I simply quit smoking. Because then I would cease to be a member of an outcast minority, and rejoin polite society. I would be able to feel at ease in any pub or club I cared to visit. There would also be many opportunities to smugly tell all and sundry that I had "given up", "kicked the habit" perhaps through the exercise of "iron determination". I could sneer at smokers as they scuttled outside for their fix. I might even, as seems customary these days, to tell smokers in online comments that they "stink", and that they are anyway going to "die of lung cancer". And I wouldn’t be angry all the time. And it would be cheaper.
There is a powerful allure to it, I must admit. I suppose it was the same sort of temptation that regularly presented itself to Protestants in Catholic countries, or royalists in Communist states, or climate sceptics in an AGW era. Why kick against the pricks? Why not go with the flow? Life would be so much easier if you got baptised into the One True Church, or joined the Party, or repeated the global warming slogans. It wouldn’t really change you at all to sign on the dotted line. Not fundamentally, anyway. You don’t have to really believe all the claptrap. All you have to do is say you do. And then doors would open for you. The world would be your oyster.
A couple of months ago, I was quite seriously considering the possibility. I had a hacking cough that lasted for weeks and weeks, until I began to wonder whether it wasn’t just due to a cold or swine flu or whatever, but was the consequence of 40 years of smoking, which had at last caught up with me.
In fact, the cough went away of its own accord, and any idea of giving up smoking went with it.
The smoking ban has made it highly improbable that I will ever give up smoking. The real purpose of the ban has not been to protect non-smokers, but to ‘encourage’ smokers to give up smoking by making it illegal to smoke more or less anywhere. And this isn’t ‘encouragement’ at all: it’s naked coercion. Anyone who gave up smoking prior to the smoking ban did so of their own volition. But anyone who gave up after the smoking ban did so because they were forced to. Or they could never be entirely sure whether they were doing what they wanted to do, or what a coercive healthist state was forcing them to do. I am no longer sure that I can freely choose to give up smoking. And as a result I’m not sure that I could be quite as smug about my "iron self-control" in giving up smoking, or sneer quite so readily at the addicts looking for their "fix" outside, if I couldn’t be sure that it was really my own free choice to quit smoking.
Prior to the smoking ban, smokers were sad nicotine addicts. But once smoking had been banned, they became noble freedom fighters, holding aloft their little glowing candles of resistance. After the smoking ban, it was resolute smokers who showed defiance to authority, and non-smokers who demonstrated meek and subservient compliance. The smoking ban made heroic rebels of smokers. It’s a spectacular own goal by the antismokers, to have thus reversed the polarity of the debate. Is it any wonder that smoking rates increase in the aftermath of smoking bans? Who wants to demonstrate themselves to be willing serfs? It seems to me that the current wave of global smoking bans, which would appear to signify the triumph of the forces of antismoking, actually signify their imminent defeat. And that, years from now, they’ll be writing their own versions of General-FieldMarshal Erich von Manstein’s Lost Victories – how defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory.
But then also there’s another thing, once I’ve given up smoking, and have proudly joined the ranks of the righteous. And it is that I’ll never be able to forget what it’s been like to be a smoker in these times. And I’ll never be able to forget what a profound division this ban has created in our society. That will never go away. Ever. It will remain as a deep scar. And this is something that all non-smokers and most ex-smokers simply have no experience of. They haven’t been going through what smokers are going through these days. They have no idea whatsoever what it’s like. And so, if I were to give up smoking now, it would be quite impossible for me to become a standard righteous ex-smoking antismoker. I know too much to become so smug and sanctimonious.
It goes deeper still. Before the ban, I used to believe that the medical establishment were being honest when they laid the blame for the lung cancer epidemic at the door of tobacco. Why on earth would they lie about it? But once I realised that they were lying about second-hand smoke, I simply had to wonder if they were lying about first-hand inhaled smoke too. And now I think they were. I’ve already torn up (to my own satisfaction) the very first British paper – the 1950 London Hospitals study -, and I’m well advanced in tearing up the second 1954 British Doctors study. The more I look at them, the worse they seem to be as examples of good research. And the result is that I no longer think that smoking causes lung cancer. My current favourite cause for it is HPV – Human Papilloma Virus – which is being found in 25% – 80% of lung cancers.
And then there’s the simple matter that, in my own personal experience, smoking has caused me zero health penalties personally. I am in perfect health. I take no medications whatsoever. And, furthermore, I don’t know anybody who is a smoker who isn’t in perfect health either. The only two people I know who died of lung cancer were both non-smokers. And personal experience matters. If you know someone who smoked and who subsequently died of lung cancer, it’s a powerful incentive to believe that the one causes the other. When my MP asked me rhetorically, ‘Guess what killed him?’ of her smoker father, she’d made that snap personal connection. But in an age when most people smoked (98% of them in the 1950 London Hospitals study, and 87% in the 1954 British Doctors study) most people who die of anything whatsoever are 98% or 87% likely to have been smokers. They were probably 98% or 87% likely to have been tea drinkers who ate toast and marmalade for breakfast as well.
And then there’s the sheer vindictive animosity of the antismokers. If they really cared about smokers, and were really honestly looking to wean them off the filthy weed, wouldn’t they be as concerned and caring of them as if they were suffering from typhoid or cholera? But antismokers have no care or consideration for poor addicted smokers at all. Quite the opposite. They are filled with hatred and contempt for them. What kind of doctor is it who is filled with hatred and contempt for his patients? Is such kind of hatred and loathing any part of any genuine medical calling at all?
And I can’t help but think, when I read what many antismokers write, that they’re all simply dying to smoke another cigarette again. If they weren’t, why are they so obsessed about it? I gave up playing with cuddly teddy bears when I was 10 years old, but I haven’t been talking about them ever since. I’m beginning to believe that, rather than 70% of smokers wanting to give up smoking, 70% of ex-smokers would like to start smoking again.
I could go on. But maybe you understand why the idea of giving up smoking is something that, while superficially appealing, doesn’t bear much deeper scrutiny, for me at least. And anyway, I’ve still got (thanks entirely to StevenL’s good advice) a whole lot more Romeo y Julietas and Cohibas and Ducados to smoke my way through yet. And a whole bottle of Glenlivet too…