One or two further thoughts on my last post, in which I produced some evidence suggesting that the uprisings in the Arab world were in part a consequence of the smoking bans which have been multiplying through the region over the last year or two.
To me, it just seems obvious that this is most likely the case. Smoking bans entail a profound loss of freedom for smokers. Smoking bans expel smokers from society. It’s an absolutely terrible thing to do to millions and millions of people. And smokers feel angry and baffled and hurt that it’s happening to them.
But nobody articulates this view. Or almost nobody. And it’s really only when people say this that such feelings are validated, and people start to feel justified at feeling angry and baffled and hurt and all the rest. While these feelings aren’t validated, they get suppressed. People feel they ought not to be feeling what they feel.
There is no public validation from the media. There are no reports of angry smokers complaining or marching or anything. And so smokers don’t find their feelings being reflected and articulated in the media, in current affairs programmes, in soap operas, in anything. So smokers tend to feel that they are alone with what they feel. And that other smokers don’t share their experience. And that there must be something wrong with them.
I don’t know, for example, how the smoking ban was handled on the Archers or Emmerdale or Eastenders, but I doubt that it was authentic. I’m just guessing, because I never watch soaps, but probably the fictional smokers in these soaps expressed shame for continuing to smoke, or for not having enough will power to give up smoking. Or they may have welcomed the ban as something that would help them give up smoking. And they regarded the ban as a progressive measure. I’m sure that many of the fictional smokers successfully gave up smoking after a few episodes, and ‘rejoined society’. What none of them would have been allowed to express was any feeling of rejection or isolation or anger. Nor would they have been allowed to condemn the ban, or the antismoking ideology underlying it. Any real smoker watching these fictional smokers would have wondered why they didn’t feel the same way, whether they were entirely alone. (Viewers of such soaps are of course welcome to correct me.)
The public perception of smoking bans is that they are an unqualified Good Thing. They are such remarkably Good Things, furthermore, that – unlike all other Good Things – they have no negative consequences whatsoever. Smoking bans rapidly improve public health. And they clear the air in public places. And they bring numerous new non-smoking customers to pubs and bars. And they are universally welcomed by smokers, 70% of whom (perhaps it’s 99% these days) want to give up smoking. They are in other words an unqualified blessing. And it’s quite impossible, given such an unqualified blessing, that anyone would be in the least bit upset about them. To suggest that smoking bans might cause riots would be a bit like saying the Mother Theresa could do something wrong, and that’s obviously impossible.
So you’re never going to hear a news reporter say anything like:
“Riots erupted in Tunis yesterday. Protesters voiced anger at the slowness of democratic reforms, the price of food, and the continuing divisive smoking bans.”
This simply wouldn’t make sense to a lot of people. Sure, protesters would be entitled to feel aggrieved at lack of democratic representation, and also at high food prices, but what could anyone have against smoking bans? Everybody loves them! They improve everybody’s health! What’s there not to like about them? Any reporter would said this would have his sanity questioned. After all, everybody knows that smoking bans are a good thing. Like Mother Theresa. And sliced bread.
So there’s a kind of blindness happening here. Ideology (antismoking ideology) is being allowed to re-write or re-interpret reality. If the Sultan of Bahrain ever expressed, for example, any doubts about the ferocious new antismoking laws being enacted in his Kingdom, his medical advisors would have told him that most smokers welcome smoking bans, and 99% of them want to give up smoking, and there’d be no loss of business for any cafe or bar, and there was nothing to worry about. And they’d have WHO studies to prove it.
Yet, in fact, all smokers hate smoking bans. And none of them want to give up smoking. And smoking bans always damage business. And there’s worse. Any Sultan of Bahrain who had even the faintest inkling of this would never have done anything so stupid and divisive as to ban smoking in his Kingdom. To do so would have been to invite upheaval.
There’s a pervasive unreality to all this. The media coverage of smoking bans is unrealistic. The policy decisions are unrealistic. The science is fabricated. And even smokers are caught up in the unreality. They’re not sure if they should be feeling so angry and frustrated, given that nobody else seems to be much bothered.
But the anger and the exclusion and the loss of trade are real. But since they cannot be explained by reference to smoking bans, they are explained in some other way. People are said to be angry at the lack of democracy, or the price of food, not because of the smoking ban. And the loss of trade is due to the economic downturn, or the weather. It can’t be the smoking ban, because everybody loves them, and they’re always a great success, as everybody knows. No, it can’t be that. No way.
In the end, however, the social atomisation and loss of trade have real consequences. Societies disintegrate. And as they disintegrate, it becomes increasingly difficult to sustain the unreality, the fiction of the benefits of smoking bans. And the antismoking lie machine runs out of money, and alternative explanations of events can begin to gain currency.
It certainly looks as if nothing short of complete social collapse can break the spell.