Stony Musings

I’ve been continuing to muse about the events over the past few weeks at Stony Stratford. I think it’s been a significant defeat for the antismoking juggernaut.

For imagine what it would have been like if Paul Bartlett had won the vote by 148-2 on Tuesday. Deborah Arnott and Amanda Sandford would have pulling out all the stops to get the result reported everywhere. They’d have been leaning on their tame journalists to write something about it. Who knows, in Prime Minister’s Question Time the next day, some MP would have asked the PM something like, “Has the right honourable gentleman taken note of the show of hands last night in the church hall in Stony Stratford where local residents voted overwhelmingly to ban smoking on its streets? When does he propose to follow their lead, and introduce an outdoor smoking ban throughout Britain?” (Cries of “Hear! Hear!”)

Really, can you even begin to imagine what it would’ve been like?

Of course, no such thing happened. The vote went the other way. And the villagers voted 148-2 for smoking not to be banned. And naturally enough ASH and Arnott and Sandford and all the rest of the undead definitely do not want this to be advertised anywhere.

But why didn’t the antismokers win the vote? Why did they lose it by such a huge margin? Surely, after years of having it hammered into their heads that just a tiny whiff of tobacco smoke is lethal, the people of Stony Stratford should have voted for the measure? And why was it that it seems that as many non-smokers as smokers were outraged by Bartlett’s proposal?

And why were they so angry? During the heated debate in the church hall, some people had to be reminded that they were in the House of God, and He didn’t like some of the language they’d been using. And Bartlett was “having stand up arguments with residents on exiting the church”. It almost sounds like it wasn’t too far off a bit of a punch-up.

Speaking as someone who would have happily rioted and set light to buildings and lynched a few politicians four years ago when the original indoor smoking ban came into force, I’m a bit puzzled myself why people who weren’t too bothered back then are up in arms now. After all, it’s essentially the same thing. Bartlett really just wanted the same ban applied outside for pretty much the exact same reasons it was applied inside: health, litter, smell, children.

But then back before the ban when I was canvassing people’s feelings about it inside the River, a lot of smokers said things like, “It’ll be no problem. I’ll just nip outside for a quick drag now and then.” They didn’t see the ban as an existential threat, because they had, quite literally, a get-out option: they could go outside. Take away that option though, and it really was backs to the wall. And the smokers of Stony Stratford could see that. And so also, it would seem, did many of their non-smoking friends and neighbours. And they were much more angry about it than I was, because it was them who were going to be banned from smoking outside, not me.

If their anger is likely to be duplicated anywhere else an outdoor ban is proposed (and it most likely would be), it rather suggests that the antismoking campaigners may have run into a brick wall, and any attempt to introduce further bans will meet with determined Stony-Stratford-style resistance in ways the original ban never did – and that you can push people only so far, and no further. They can wear indoor smoking bans, but not outdoor ones.

So why couldn’t I wear an indoor smoking ban? Why wasn’t I agreeing with the smokers in the River with their no-probs-I’ll-just-nip-outside attitude? It was really because I used the pub in a different way than they did. I’d pop in during the quiet afternoons, say hello to whoever was there, buy a pint, and then sit meditating with a few cigarettes over it for the next hour or so. If you’re doing that, the last thing you want to do is break into your long reverie and get up and go outside. It would be exactly like going to a cinema to see a movie, and nipping outside for a quick drag during it, hoping that nothing interesting happened while you were out. So I knew immediately that I wasn’t going to be able to live with the ban. Because the pub was my church, where I went to meditate for an hour or so every day. But it was a lot better than a church, because you could talk and drink and smoke in it. You could even read a book in it, or play a game of chess or pool. And you could swear a bit as well, without God coming over and telling you to put a sock in it.

The smoking ban took away my church. And if I’m now something of a religious zealot about it, that’s why.

Of course, I also used the pub the way most people did: to meet people, catch up on the gossip, flirt with the girls, get a bit drunk. I was, after all, doing exactly this in the Vaults in Stony Stratford last Saturday. Well, I wasn’t exactly sitting in a corner lost in thought. And when you’re using pubs that sociable way, it really isn’t too much of a problem to nip outside. It’s annoying. But for many smokers it’s not so annoying that they’ll stop going to pubs.

All the same, I can’t really quite get my head around smokers who actually agree with the current smoking ban. As described by Bryony Gordon:

The smokers I know are among the most courteous people around. They agree with the smoking ban and apologise should anything blow in the general direction of those who do not indulge in the habit.

They tend to put butts in ashtrays, and if there is no ashtray available, they stub it out and place it in their cigarette packet for later disposal.

Smokers who agree with the smoking ban? Sounds like Jews For Hitler (and there were some of those). And how do you not blow smoke in the general direction of someone? Smoking is like talking: you may actually be talking to a particular person, but everyone else can hear what you’re saying, and they’re drinking in your secondhand words (which are often far more toxic than firsthand ones, natch). Perhaps they exhale into their own armpits, or into the cuffs of their jackets?

Anyway, with smokers like that, no wonder there’s been so little resistance to the bans. I can only suppose that if there had been a few of these smokers who actually agree with the current smoking ban, rather than just enduring it, in Stony Stratford they might have lent Paul Bartlett some support. “I’m glad I’m banned from the pub, and I’d like to be banned from the streets too. Because I don’t think children should be forced to see disgusting people like me.”

Is that how it is with them?

About Frank Davis

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21 Responses to Stony Musings

  1. Junican says:

    I read Bryony’s articles – they are amusing. She is a smoker, don’t cha know. Of course, she agonises over it – along with her habit of drinking white wine.

    But why does she agonise over smoking and drinking white wine? BECAUSE SHE HAS BEEN TOLD TO! Is that not true?

    I was just about to retire when I clicked onto your blog – just to see. I will now go to bed.

    But before I go, I want to suggest a thought. Bartlett was seen off because local people gained the opportunity to see him off. The initial ‘push’ came from DP and all you guys who put yourselves out to go to SS. The whole thing was very ‘minor key’, but the effect was ‘major key’, and, in the event of the meeting, did not rely upon people from areas outside SS. In other words, the local people needed only a little encouragement. And so I see a huge fault in the ASH determination to persecute/prosecute smokers, and that is that there are no useful idiots, such as publicans, to enforce their diktats when it comes down to one-to-one – State versus individuals. God only knows how publicans allowed themselves to be used in that way.

    And so to bed.

    • Frank Davis says:

      But why does she agonise over smoking and drinking white wine? BECAUSE SHE HAS BEEN TOLD TO!

      But so have I. Why don’t I agonise over it too?

      The initial ‘push’ came from DP and all you guys who put yourselves out to go to SS.

      Is this true? When I first picked the story, feelings were already running pretty high in the local community, as I reported. I think that outsiders like us probably just helped bolster their convictions, and give the matter further publicity.

      I think that ASH’s problem is that they aren’t a grassroot movement, although they like to pretend to be, and that when it all comes down to street politics, they have no real support.

  2. Frank J says:

    If ‘smokers for the ban’ exist they are, in my opinion, following fashion and I’ve only heard one in 4 years, a trendy late 40’s slaphead sat at the end of the bar in T-shirt with teenage garbage on it, shorts and trainers (a right prat in other words) who loudly proclaimed that he was a smoker and agreed with the ban. And that was 4 years ago, never seen him since. Every other smoker I know thinks it wrong on a variety of levels.

    None of this would exist if SHS, the basis of it all, was shown to be the fallacy it is or at least an overkill. The problem lies purely in the House with stranglehold control exerted by DoH/APPG to whom Stony Stratford is an irrelevance, petulance from ignorant people who don’t know their own good. That should be the simple target, not the unthinking, poseurish, public, the sheeple who’ll follow anything that seems the moral of the day, but the House of Commons. That’s what ASH did, bugger the people, we’ll never convince them of the righteousness of our ways, concentrate on the few who hold the power. And it worked.

    • Frank Davis says:

      That’s what ASH did, bugger the people, we’ll never convince them of the righteousness of our ways, concentrate on the few who hold the power. And it worked.

      Indeed it did. But a lot of MPs also believe that there’s strong popular support for smoking bans. This is an illusion largely created by ASH, using skewed opinion polls, professional write-in campaigns, and so on. ASH have successfully created a ‘reality’ in which ordinary people love smoking bans. And MPs are still in the grip of this illusion. Although Stony Stratford may have helped to break the spell a bit.

  3. Karen says:

    It made an appearance in ASH’s daily news, under the heading ‘Stony Stratford smoking ban: Town council rejects Bartlett’s proposals – for now’.

    Presumably the ‘for now’ refers to part three, still on the agenda for September’s council meeting, though how they think it’ll be received any better than the first two motions is a puzzle. There is something ominous about that ‘for now’ and it’s plain that outdoor bans are to be a ‘logical next step’ somewhere in their plans to make us miserable.

    • Frank Davis says:

      There is something ominous about that ‘for now’

      Perhaps there is. But it doesn’t look like ASH will be able to change public opinion in Stony Stratford. What they might be able to do, however, is change councillors minds – by exerting pressure on them from higher up the political food chain, where ASH are much more influential. What if, say, Milton Keynes council linked an outdoor smoking ban to Stony Stratford’s library, and said “You can keep your library if you introduce an outdoor smoking ban”?

      After all, I believe this is how it works in the EU. Governments are presented with a package of things they need to do in order to win EUsubsidies, grants, etc. And smoking bans are included in the package.

  4. Curmudgeon says:

    I’ve met a few smokers who say they support the ban, or at any rate don’t particularly mind it. They say it acts as a restraint on their smoking. However, I would say they have been brainwashed into a feeling of guilt and self-loathing about smoking.

  5. handymanphil says:

    The majority of smokers in my local laughed at me 4 years ago and declared it was ‘no probs’ just tonip outside for a fag. It obviously became a ‘big probs’ as they’ve all left, bar one, now. They all enjoy each others houses & gardens instead and the local tenant can’t get out because of great financial loss looming. The local brewery are telling blatant porkies on their website to lure would be newbies into untenable tenancies. I know a tenant who sent his mate in to enquire about his pub as a possible ‘new venture’ to be told that the takings were 3 x’s that which they actually were.
    The truth is that people have now finally come to realise the devastation this smokeban has caused, they have come to realise that ASH are indeed ‘no good motherfucka’s’, hell bent on eradicating smoking so as to continue receiving the massive funding (wages) from a government now scared shitless of Big Pharma.
    Dick Puddlecote’s call to arms was immediately picked up by the rest of freedom2choose, but better than that, BLOGOSPHERE! The response was superb, it was something ASH et al would NOT have been expecting. It was something inconceivable in their tiny minds-and the coverage brought the outrage of normal, street walking people to the fore. Paul Bartlett, self righteous idiot that he be, failed miserably in using the health of the people (children esp) to bring in Barlett’s Law. I am confident he will fail again in September-but I am equally sure that ASH will try a different approach, somewhere, somehow!

    • Frank Davis says:

      It obviously became a ‘big probs’ as they’ve all left, bar one, now.

      Well, I certainly thought that people were being rather optimistic about the ease of ‘nipping out for a quick puff.’ In the event, it wasn’t much fun at all. But quite a few people still soldier on, nipping out for a fag now and then.

  6. Brigitte says:

    I’ve met a few smokers who say they support the ban, or at any rate don’t particularly mind it. They say it acts as a restraint on their smoking.

    I have encountered them, too. I was (and still am) baffled; why would I wish to put the message across: ‘Hey, I am glad there is some body out there helping me to control my habits’ ?

    With respect to eating/drinking habits: I can see why obese people are ‘confused and helpless’ – they are being told that they are deviants and undesirable and then, their cost to the NHS…. and blahblahblah… Every diet and appetit-stopper they read about is their ‘last hope’ ; and if they continue to pile on a sufficient amount of pounds, there is always the option of gastric bands/bypass. So, there is someone out there whom the low self esteem of adipose people (applies to smokers as well) suits down to the ground. The only advice, when being asked (!) is good old German advice: “FDH – Friss die Haelfte” (Eat half the amount of whatever you are eating).

    Quite frankly, I can do this, if and when I wish, all by myself; after all, I am an adult; I just have to take control of myself and my actions!

    With respect to smoking: There were times I had decided that I didn’t wish to smoke in the streets or in my car. And I didn’t miss it. Since 4 years I do both again as I did not wish to be seen as a smoker who is ashamed to do so, hiding in a corner.

    I am glad to see (at least in the area where I live) smoker’s self-confidence is beginning to return; I am sure our friends from tobacco control will come up with some more ridiculous scare stories they call studies.

    • Frank Davis says:

      low self esteem

      After being told that they are smelly weak-willed addicts for so long, it’s perhaps no surprise that many smokers think of themselves as exactly this. And because they don’t esteem themselves at all highly, they esteem other people’s opinions (i.e. ‘experts’) higher than their own, and accept whatever they say.

      I’m sure the same happens whenever any social minority comes under this sort of sustained attack.

      There need to be Proud Smokers. i.e. smokers and proud of it.

      • Rose says:

        I have to admit that my entire family, smokers or not , think my research is a pointless waste of time, the opposition is too big and powerful, what’s done is done and there’s nothing to be done about it.
        And frankly that I’m a bit odd for even thinking about it.

        I got the same reaction with the crash helmet law.
        They just couldn’t understand that though I always wore a crash helmet, it was my bloody head, and it was nobody’s place to tell me what I should wear on it, let alone make it illegal for me not to.

  7. Jay says:

    It’s possible that the relatively few residents who turned up to the meeting were using the opportunity to undermine Bartlett and support for him at the next election. The majority of people usually take the path of least resistance and Bartlett’s been voted in as a councillor for years. Perhaps the minority who are aware of his calibre decided this was the time to strike.

    I haven’t willingly been in a pub or restaurant since the ban. I just couldn’t accept it knowing that it was based on a lie. ASH was very clever in not wasting time trying to convince the populace of the ‘dangers’ of SHS, aware that, after the ban took effect, people (including some smokers) would just acclimatise to it.

    Taking a leaf out of ASH’s book, I think that Simon Clark’s suggestion that we highlight Stony Stratford to our MPs is a good one.

  8. Rose says:

    Posted by enemy guest on the Doctor’s blog.

    I don’t know if you know this, but it was certainly news to me.

    “Liam Donaldson, the WHO’s newly appointed envoy for patient safety, told a news briefing.”

    This compared with a risk of dying in an air crash of about 1 in 10 million passengers, according to Donaldson, formerly England’s chief medical officer.”–going-into-hospital-far-more-risky-than-flying-who

    Perhaps on past form he’ll bring the whole edifice down from the inside.

    Doctor training policy diagnosed a failure

    “Changes to medical training introduced since 2002 have been rushed, poorly led and implemented and are unlikely even to produce very good doctors, according to a new report.

    Sir John Tooke, who chaired an independent inquiry set up by the Department of Health, said it had been a sorry episode from which nobody emerged with credit.

    The new policy, called Modernising Medical Careers (MMC), was introduced without clear definition of what it was meant to achieve. Weak development, implementation and governance had made it worse. “Put simply, ‘good enough’ is not good enough,” Sir John writes. “Rather, in the interest of the health and wealth of the nation, we should aspire to excellence.”

    Problems with MMC first became apparent when the computer-based application system used for selecting doctors for higher training failed this year. The Medical Training Application Service (MTAS) had to be abandoned, and the furore about it drew attention to wider defects. The report by Sir John, who is Dean of the Peninsula College of Medicine, will make uncomfortable reading for the department, and for Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, who was the main driving force behind MMC.”

  9. Not a fucking scooby’s .. They can FUCK RIGHT OPF!

  10. Bandit 1 says:

    The difference, as far as I can see, lies in the fact that the SS proposal was put to a public vote whilst the 2007 ban was not. The 2007 ban was connived in various corridors of power and imposed on the public as a fait accompli. The public, having been left in no doubt that nothing they said or did could alter it, have simply rationalised it in various ways.

  11. Jax says:

    “ … why people who weren’t too bothered back then are up in arms now …”

    I think it’s because so many non-smokers are now coming on-side, and it’s because this outside-ban issue was raised post-indoor-ban rather than before it. That might sound like an obvious statement, but the thing is that the vast majority of non-smokers, even those who didn’t like the idea of the indoor ban, didn’t, deep down inside, think that, if enacted, it would affect them personally. But it has, in all sorts of ways, both major (like the closure of their local pubs and the sometimes total loss of contact with smoking friends) to minor (like the continual disruption and fragmentation of social groups during social events). Non-smokers, even the nicest and most supportive of them, really don’t “get” smoking, do they, and many of them wrongly believed that their smoking friends just “wouldn’t bother to smoke” at social events once the ban came in, without realising that for a smoker, going out and “not bothering” to smoke at all makes that evening into something of an endurance test rather than something pleasant, relaxing and enjoyable – hence rendering it pretty much not “worth bothering” with at all! Given that option of the lesser evil of a “tolerable, though not particularly great” evening (which is the only other option now available to us), it was therefore inevitable that smokers would go outside for an occasional cigarette during social occasions, with the resulting disruption to the dynamics of any social group.

    Non-smokers also, I believe, had something of a blind spot when it came to realising that this much-talked-about smoking ban wouldn’t just affect “smokers” in general (i.e. the multitudes of people “out there” that they didn’t know) but that it would also affect all the smokers that they personally knew and liked, and I think that the realisation that their lack of opposition to the imposition of the ban has now resulted in their own friends and family having to leave social gatherings and stand out in the cold and wet for a cigarette has been something of a nasty shock to them. In a nutshell, I think that increasing numbers of non-smokers are now starting to feel just a tiny bit guilty about their lack of support for their smoking friends and family and don’t want to make the same mistake again.

    And, of course, the over-eagerness of the anti-drinking lobby to dethrone the anti-smoking lobby (now that they’ve got their precious ban in place) and get to work on all those wicked boozers has played its part in turning non-smokers against the smoking ban in increasing numbers. Their impatience has, I think, worked against both their own interests and those of the anti-smoking lobby itself, in that the mechanics of shoehorning the smoking ban into place and the machinations of manipulating public opinion, the media and politicians which preceded it is still far too fresh in the public’s mind for the similarities not to be noticed by at least some non-smoking drinkers, and I think that increasing numbers are now starting to see that what we, the smokers, were saying pre-ban was right all along, i.e. (1) they won’t stop just at the indoor ban and (2) they won’t stop just at smoking.

    Needless to say, there’ll always be some anti-smoking drinkers (CAMRA spring to mind) who’ll sit resolutely with their fingers in their ears chanting to themselves: “We’re not the same as smokers. We’re not Binge Drinkers. We’re not hurting anyone else. La, la, la, la, la.” And of course they’ll be right – they aren’t. What they won’t realise, though, is that if they don’t take their fingers out of their ears and unburden themselves of the weakest part of any argument that they make against increasing restrictions on drinking by admitting that they were wrong on the smoking issue, then – using exactly the same tactics as the anti-smoking lobby did – the anti-alcohol lobby will convince everyone else that they are.

    • Frank Davis says:

      many of them wrongly believed that their smoking friends just “wouldn’t bother to smoke” at social events once the ban came in, without realising that for a smoker, going out and “not bothering” to smoke at all makes that evening into something of an endurance test rather than something pleasant, relaxing and enjoyable

      Yes, non-smokers seem to think that smoking bans have no more impact on smokers than they do on non-smokers. Paul Bartlett of Stony Stratford was saying recently that it was “absurd” to suggest that smokers wouldn’t go to places (like Milton Keynes centre) just because smoking was banned there. It’s a curious blindness that seems to afflict non-smokers, even though they are quite happy to tell us that we are “addicts”.

  12. Junican says:

    Well said, Jax.

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