At year’s end, it’s perhaps time to look back. And also look forward.
It’s now been exactly three and a half years since smoking was banned in English pubs. I still remember that overcast day outside the River, where a stranger came up to me and remarked, "It’s not a free country any more." He was quite right. Ever since that day, Britain has never seemed to me to be a free country. On that day, it became a foreign and alien land, and has remained so ever since. In my passport it says that I am a British citizen, but for all intents and purposes I may as well be Turkish or Chinese.
On that day smokers were expelled both from pubs and from public life. They were expelled from the pubs where they had sat smoking pipes and drinking beer for over 400 years. Overnight they became social outsiders. And quite literally so, as they congregated outside the pubs they had once sat inside.
It was not a ban which had been demanded by public opinion. There had been no marches or demonstrations calling for a smoking ban. Most people didn’t want a complete ban. When, before the ban came into force, I canvassed opinions inside the River, I didn’t encounter anybody who was whole-heartedly in favour of the ban. Instead I encountered resignation and fatalism. It was, people told me, "the way things are going", often adding that "There’s nothing that can be done about it," as if it were all part of some unstoppable tide of history which would make smoking and tobacco a thing of the past.
The response of the River’s landlord to the approaching ban was to announce that he was going to give up smoking. He said that he would be providing a large covered area for smokers. In the event, he erected a small tent outside the front door, which I never saw anyone use, and which only remained there a couple of months before being removed.
Before the ban came into force, a number of the regulars declared that they wouldn’t be coming to the pub any more. And they were true to their word. I never saw them again. But I lingered on, sat outside by the river until the encroaching winter drove me away too.
And reports from those who continued going were that the formerly busy bar thereafter became empty and dead. Not that it probably affected the River’s business too much, because it had long since become a restaurant pub, catering to a rather elderly clientele who would arrive in their cars, eat, and then depart. Very often, venturing inside to buy a drink to take back outside, it almost seemed more like an old people’s home than a pub.
And therein lies an inkling of the profound social impact of the ban. For the ban shattered the little pub community. Some smokers simply stayed home. Others, like me, now only ever sat outside. Other smokers kept on stoically visiting the pub, periodically stepping outside for a quick smoke, and saying nothing of it, as if it had always been thus. For a long time I wondered whether these stoics were in fact completely indifferent to their changed circumstances. But one evening I got talking to a bunch of them, and they all loudly declared that they absolutely hated it.
And then the pubs began to close. Something like 10% of Britain’s pubs have closed since the smoking ban. I’m surprised that more haven’t. But in Ireland, which has had a ban for longer, the figure is more like 25%.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the complete lack of any public debate. The advent of the smoking ban was barely reported at all. I kept waiting for a TV debate about it, but one never came. One afternoon, I saw Richard and Judy interviewing Bob Feal-Martinez, the founder of Freedom2Choose, and gained something of an inkling why. For towards the end of the amicable interview, Richard was told that Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) had phoned the studio to denounce both Feal-Martinez and Freedom2Choose. Immediately the questioning became more aggressive. ASH had to be very powerful if it could intervene while a TV programme was being aired, to bend the ear of one of its presenters. The public debate was being controlled. Dissent was not permitted. But how come? How did a mere antismoking organisation become so powerful?
I still don’t really know the answer to this question. How is it that David Cameron, Prime Minister of Great Britain, who was (and maybe still is) a smoker, refuses to even consider relaxing this ban? And how is it that Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister and also a smoker, has said that a relaxation of the smoking ban is about as likely as the re-introduction of the death penalty? And what about Barack Obama, also reputedly still a smoker, and the most powerful man in the world? It seems there are forces at work in the world that are more powerful than mere prime ministers or presidents.
But the answer is probably what it usually is: money. The global antismoking movement is awash with it, mostly in the form of taxes. And in the USA there’s millions of dollars from the Master Settlement Agreement paid by tobacco companies. Around the world, smokers’ taxes are being used to fund the war that is being waged against them. And with all that money, is it a surprise that antismoking organisations can afford full time employees, and hold regular conferences with hundreds of delegates?
The same seems to be true for the Global Warming religion, and for the EU project. Neither of these are openly and publicly debated either. Our politicians, it seems, have all been bought. Or, if they haven’t been bought, they’ve been silenced or neutralised.
And it isn’t just here in the UK that this has happened. It’s happening everywhere else too. There is an anti-smoking, global-warming-alarmist, europhile ascendancy with which all main political parties are in lockstep, and whose doctrines are repeated unquestioned in the mainstream media. Which is why I no longer have a TV, and no longer buy a newspaper. And also why I’ll never vote for any of the main political parties again.
In my little corner of Devon, the smoking ban brought about the almost immediate death of my local social life. Within a month or two there was no more meeting up with friends for a few drinks and a few games of pool. Even if I went to the pub, there was nobody there to play. And in the longer term it brought the slow death of most of my more extended social life. I’d used to meet up with distant friends at pubs. This happened less and less often. And, in addition, while most of them continued with their lives exactly as before (because the ban didn’t affect them in the least), I had become an excluded outsider, and gradually found myself sharing less and less in common with them. They thought they were still living in a free country, and I didn’t. They were carefree, and I was angry. They still voted Labour or Lib Dem or whatever, and I didn’t. They still watched TV and read newspapers, when I’d stopped. My world gradually diverged from theirs.
And the same as happened to me, there can be no doubt, has also been happening all over Britain with hundreds of thousands of other people. And not just Britain, but Ireland and France and Germany and the USA and wherever else these vindictive smoking bans are imposed. Next week (2 Jan 2011) it’s the turn of the Spanish people to feel the heel of the jackboot.
For someone like myself, who is fairly self-contained, and content with my own company most of the time, it’s not a shattering experience. But for others it may well be otherwise. Such as Lawrence Walker, who committed suicide 6 months after the smoking ban drove him from his Cornish pub. Or the anonymous woman who left a comment on my blog a few months ago, which ended:
Nor is it that I’ve merely read about such misfortune. I know a 75-year-old who told me, quite matter-of-factly, that he no longer met up with friends at the pub, because "I’m too old to stand outside." Which, of course, he was.
What an appalling excursion from common decency.
What an indictment of our grubby politicians that they would do such a vicious thing to their own people.
But perhaps it doesn’t really matter if people have their social lives destroyed. "Awwww, Widdums," was the response of one antismoker, who seemed to think it didn’t matter in the least.
But for myself I believe that it is one of the most terrible things that can be done to a human being, to deprive them of friendship and community, to isolate and exclude them from civil society. What can be more destructive to anyone’s well-being?
And for what? Simply to make people stop smoking. To deprive them of one of life’s simple pleasures. To force them to comply with medical orthodoxy. To make them live "healthy" lives, where "health" is mere longevity, devoid of any other considerations of social or psychological well-being.
The antismokers in Tobacco Control, knee deep in money (and mostly smokers’ money) and the influence that money can buy, are able to not only impose one obscene ban after another on smokers, but also prevent any open, public discussion of what is being done to them.
But for how long? For how long can they keep the enormous social damage hidden? For how long will they be able to phone up TV shows and snap their fingers to direct what’s being said?
Nobody will speak up for smokers, but they can speak well enough for themselves. They might speak individually in whispers, but collectively all 2 billion of them would become the most deafening voice in the world.
The past half century has seen black people, and gay people, and women fight back against ancient prejudices and ancient lies. Now it’s the turn of smokers to fight back. It may look like a daunting journey for people presently so publicly reviled. But every journey begins with a first step.
And many steps have already been taken. All around the world, smokers are beginning to stir and fight back, individually and increasingly collectively. A few years ago, when I first became immersed in this matter, there seemed to be hardly anybody speaking up. Now there seem to be hundreds. Soon it will be thousands. And after that it will be millions. The voice of smokers will get louder and louder. And they will first become impossible to ignore, and then impossible to stop.
It is ever thus with humanity. When a powerful new enemy first appears, we humans are at first confused and demoralised and easily defeated. But that’s just the beginning. After a while, we develop new tactics, and we begin to win a few battles here and there. And then we win every single battle, as we become an unstoppable force. We have done this over and over again. And now it’s time to do it again.
It may seem strange, and faintly improbable, to predict the victory of smokers right now, just when they are suffering their worst defeats. But it is out of such bloody defeats that determination is born. It is in the blood of martyrs, like Lawrence Walker, that resolution is fixed.
If the enemies of smokers had showed a little forebearance, or a little compassion, it would have been otherwise. But they have no forebearance, and no compassion. Instead they use every opportunity to demean and degrade smokers as much as they possibly can. And this is a terrible mistake on their part, because it is precisely this that ensures that smokers will fight, however unwilling they may still be: for they have no option but to fight such an uncompromising enemy.
So beat the war drum. We smokers have hundreds of millions of allies all around the world. Smokers like us who’ve had enough. Uniting together with them, we will defeat these enemies of ours, regardless of how rich or powerful they may now seem to be. We will ourselves become the unstoppable tide. And it’ll make no difference whether we’re man or woman, or whether we’re British or Turkish or Chinese.