Vichy Britain

It always seems to me that, in the long run, the smoking ban will prove to be a disaster for the cause of antismoking. It will set it back 100 years or more.

I’ve said this before, but their cause has been doing pretty darn well over the past 60 years. UK smoking prevalence fell from 90% (or higher) in 1950 to 22% in 2010. More or less everybody now ‘knows’ that smoking causes lung cancer. As a social custom, it was arguably slowly dying out. And all without any compulsion at all.

But after about 60 years of patient education, the antismokers got greedy. They got tired of waiting for the last few smokers to die out. They decided to force the pace of change. They decided to make smoking all but illegal everywhere, and to mount a campaign of vilification and demonisation of smokers. The velvet glove was replaced with an iron fist. The smokers who had been slowly sauntering towards the door were now bodily thrown out of it.

And this, I think, changed everything. Nobody likes to be pushed into doing something. It breeds resistance. Once you start pushing people to do something, they will push back with an equal and opposite force. This fundamental law of physics seems, rather remarkably, to be reproduced in a social context.

There never seem to have been very many dedicated antismokers, and so their influence was never as great as they would have liked. But once they gained the force of law behind their campaign, their small influence was enormously multiplied. A small number of people became able to exert enormous force. And they did so quite ruthlessly. They not only kicked smokers out of pubs and restaurants, but they kicked them out of their jobs as well. And they kicked out even pictures or other representations of them.

The counterforce has no force multiplier behind it. The counterforce is exerted by millions and millions of individuals who, in small ways and large ways, push back. How hard any individual person pushes back reflects how greatly that person has experienced the force of antismoking.

In my own case, the antismoking ban shattered my social life, and toppled a great many of my previous beliefs and values. It turned me into somebody else, somebody who was permanently angry and vengeful. It’s this anger that powers this blog. It’s this anger that is always looking for a way to get back at these antismoking bastards.

But for most smokers, the effect of the smoking ban has not been quite so dramatic. They might have been shoved outside, but they didn’t lose all their friends.

For instance, it was sunny a couple of days ago, and I sat outside a pub with a beer, smoking a cigarette. A few people gathered outside it, talking to each other. One of them I recognised as the bar girl who had just served me a beer. She was smoking a cigarette. At first I thought she was the only smoker, but one by one they all lit up cigarettes. All except one rather elderly lady. The only non-smoker, it seemed. Or so I thought, until a few minutes later I saw her sitting at a nearby table with a beer, smoking a cigarette. And I realised that here was a community of smokers who hadn’t had their social lives shattered, but who had just kept doggedly going to their local pub anyway, if only to sit together outside. These were people who had just shrugged and carried on doing what they did, and being who they were, despite everything. They were the kind of people, I thought, who had soldiered uncomplainingly through the wartime blitz, making toast and tea for friends and neighbours in their shattered houses between the raids, and hoping for better days. It often seems to me that it’s the sheer endurance of such people that will do as much, and perhaps much more, than I will ever do to overturn the smoking ban.

The same was true, probably, in Occupied France in the same era. Some French people hated their Nazi occupiers, and joined the Resistance, and planted bombs on railway lines. But most French people probably just endured the Occupation. They didn’t like it, but there was nothing they could do about it. They just carried on living as best they could, hoping for better days. And some French people actively collaborated with the invaders.

Britain these days is more like Occupied France than Blitz Britain. And I’m a member of La Resistance. We’re building a network of cells. Soon we will start blowing up railways, I hope. But most people are just trying to get by as best they can, just trying to live their lives as best they can. They don’t like the smoking ban any more than I do. But there’s nothing they can do about it.

We have our collaborators, of course. Many of them seem to be MPs – like Paul Flynn or Kerry McCarthy. Others are wealthy people like Duncan Bannatyne or Richard Branson. And very arguably people like David Cameron and Nick Clegg are active collaborators as well. Except that both of them are smokers. And neither of them has emerged as passionately antismoking. David Cameron never talks about it. And when Nick Clegg said that it was about as likely that the smoking ban would be amended as the death penalty would be re-introduced, he was perhaps another Petain remarking that it wasn’t very likely that the Germans would be going home any time soon. Cameron and Clegg are Britain’s Petains during this period of Britain’s Occupation. They can no more do anything about the antismoking occupiers than Petain could do anything about the Nazi occupation of France. They take their orders from them, and perhaps they do their best to mitigate the worst effects.

During this period of Occupation, it surprising how little public support the occupiers are getting. There don’t seem to be very many collaborator celebrities and pundits who have picked up the torch of antismoking and run with it. But equally there don’t seem to be very many who have publicly rejected it. And perhaps this isn’t very surprising. If you were a celebrity in Paris in 1940 – an actress or a singer -, it probably didn’t do your celebrity much good if you poked fun at the Nazi occupiers. If you did, they wouldn’t arrest you, but they would make sure that you never trod the boards of any French theatre again.

Kate Moss is one supermodel celebrity who has been openly snubbing the occupation. A week or two back, she came out of retirement just to walk the catwalk again, smoking a cigarette. Our modern Nazis won’t shoot her, but they’ll do everything they can to crush her. The yet-to-be-ratified EU smoking ban makes provision for the prosecution of high profile offenders like her. So maybe that’s what they’ll do to her.

Britain isn’t the only occupied country, of course. More or less the whole of Europe has fallen to the antismoking invaders. There are smokers sitting outside bars and cafes all over Europe.

Nor can the smoking bans be separated any longer from the EU. The smoking ban is the EU. It may be that the EU smoking ban will only come into force when all of the member countries have enforced their own separate bans, and there can at last be ‘harmonisation’ of smoking bans across Europe. This still seems to be some way off, however. The Eastern Europeans – e.g. the Czech Republic – seem quite incapable of enforcing them. Same with Greece. And Spain is having a hard time crushing its smokers into submission.

Nor can smoking bans be separated from events in the wider world outside Europe. If a ‘free country’ is one in which someone can meet up with a few friends for a drink and a smoke, then most of the countries of Western Europe are no longer free countries. By this measure, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a free country. But smoking bans were introduced in ‘liberated’ Iraq a few months ago, and also in many other Arab countries. It’s said that the Arab world has been set ablaze in recent months by rising food prices and growing expectations of democratic representation. But perhaps it’s not like that at all. Perhaps it’s that as smoking bans have been introduced one by one across the Middle East, their populations have had enough. They could endure high food prices, and they could endure tyrants like Saddam Hussein, but they can’t tolerate smoking bans.

It wouldn’t surprise me in the least. Smoking bans are enormously socially destructive. They destroy communities and they destroy friendships, and they arouse tremendous anger. The kind of burning anger that can spill out onto the streets in flames.

It all started in Tunisia a few months back, after all, with a burning man.

Early on December 17th last year Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old fruit-and-vegetable seller, had doused himself in petrol, flicked a lighter and started a revolution in front of the building.

Within three weeks Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s authoritarian president of 23 years, had fled to Saudi Arabia, his palaces ransacked and his once ubiquitous his portrait nowhere to be seen.

How come Mohamed Bouazizi had a lighter? What kind of people carry lighters? I mean, really?

Friends have explained to the family that the trigger on his cigarette lighter jammed on the open position as he stood there.

Because, 4 Jun 2010:

Tunisia has banned smoking cigarettes in public places and put curbs on cigarette advertising under a law that came into force on Sunday.

The ban involves almost every public space from state offices, hospitals to means of public tansportation.

also, 11 Oct 2009:

Yes I know even though Tunisia is not in the EU they are implementing a smoking ban in an Arabic country, crazy but that’s what is happening.

Resistance takes many forms. And the sum of the resistance is always equal to the opposing force.

About Frank Davis

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9 Responses to Vichy Britain

  1. Walt says:

    A small correction: Auntie-Smoking arrived in Iraq with the Americans and their efforts to establish a provisional government. Here’s a bit posted on the NPR (National Public Radio) website in 2006. It begins with a book review and starts with an excerpt–a quote about James K. Haveman, the American put in charge of Iraq’s new Americanized health care system:

    . “Haveman arrived in Iraq with his own priorities….He approached problems the way a health care administrator in America would: He focused on preventive measures to reduce the need for hospital treatment.

    “He urged the Health Ministry to mount an anti-smoking campaign, and he assigned an American from the CPA team — who turned out to be a closet smoker himself — to lead the public education effort. Several members of Haveman’s staff noted wryly that Iraqis faced far greater dangers in their daily lives than tobacco. The CPA’s limited resources, they argued, would be better used raising awareness about how to prevent childhood diarrhea and other fatal maladies.”

    The reviewer then comments:

    “Iraqis smoke. I have no idea what the percentage is countrywide, but the idea of a no-smoking area hasn’t really penetrated. The convention center in the Green Zone (where the new Iraqi parliament meets) is one of the ugliest buildings I’ve ever seen, a massive concrete structure that looks like a fortress. For years after the invasion, the building was a no-smoking zone. Uptight Americans would reprimand everyone who lit up, including Iraqi political leaders. A group of Iraqi politicians and aides would gather and look guiltily around until they hit a crucial number — maybe 15 or so — then everyone would light up at once. It was a weird sight. And then some American would tell them to put it out. Now, this is in the building that is the center of the new Iraqi government and the politicians were told by low-level hacks to not smoke. And, of course, the smoking area outside occasionally got hit by mortars.

    “I am happy to report though, that the new government has now installed ashtrays in the convention center and parliamentarians can now smoke in peace, and maybe try to grapple with some real issues.”

    If the link is still good: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6096545

  2. Jamie Holts says:

    I’ve been reading along for a while now. I just wanted to drop you a comment to say keep up the good work.

  3. nisakiman says:

    @Walt

    Interesting. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that the Americans started immediately on the smoking thing. Their priorities are so skewed. As are the priorities of all the antis, come to think of it…

    Love this quote:

    “I am happy to report though, that the new government has now installed ashtrays in the convention center and parliamentarians can now smoke in peace, and maybe try to grapple with some real issues.”

    It would be so nice if the zealots would just go out and get a life. Why do they devote so much time and effort to persecuting others for enjoying life? Some people get their kicks out of the strangest things…

    We, as smokers, find ourselves in the invidious position of having to defend that which should never have been under attack in the first place. We are collectively stunned by the ferocity of this unprovoked attack, and our forces are scattered. We need to regroup and find some sort of focus for the defence of our natural rights. Unfortunately, smokers are such a disparate group that it’s difficult to contemplate any kind of popular action.

    It’s all very depressing, but I remain the eternal optimist. And if my optimism is misplaced, then I’ll just say “fuck the lot of you” and start being individually difficult whenever I can.

  4. db says:

    I haven’t noticed many smokers showing signs of resistance in the UK – the Blitz mentality does not exist any more. That was characterised by defiance, not resignation. Sitting outside smoking merely demonstrates capitulation. As does simply staying at home. Unless smokers actively fight back things will go from bad to worse. Some of us, at least recognise, what’s happening. And, in some way, are endeavouring to raise public awareness. Perhaps in vain – sadly, the vast majority appear to have succumbed.

  5. George Speller says:

    “In my own case, the antismoking ban shattered my social life, and toppled a great many of my previous beliefs and values. It turned me into somebody else, somebody who was permanently angry and vengeful. It’s this anger that powers this blog. It’s this anger that is always looking for a way to get back at these antismoking bastards.”

    Reading your blog is like looking in a mirror.
    Thanks for repeatedly validating my feelings.

  6. Jay says:

    I’d like to echo George Speller’s sentiments.

    “The yet-to-be-ratified EU smoking ban makes provision for the prosecution of high profile offenders like her.”

    I’m completely ignorant of this – are they planning to target and more severely punish slebs?

    • Frank Davis says:

      Here is my post about it:

      Shock trials: The EU states will be encouraged to carry out sensationalist prosecutions designed to shock the public. Celebrities who smoke will also be targeted and exposed publicly as smoking offenders. The document states that if individuals in the public eye have deliberately disregarded the law and this is publicly known, the authorities will demonstrate their commitment to and the seriousness of the legislation by reacting with rigorous and speedy measures, attracting the widest possible public attention.

  7. Jay says:

    Good grief

  8. Pingback: Darling, You’re Smokin’ | Frank Davis

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