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?