I regularly call for a 10-million+-strong army of smokers to simply force the end of smoking bans and discrimination against smokers. But I was thinking this morning that maybe that wasn’t necessary, and that the world’s 1.5 billion smokers might well achieve this desired effect simply by going home and withdrawing their custom from more or less everywhere. And I think this is what they seem to actually be doing, wherever smoking bans are introduced. And I believe that there’s indeed a perceptible negative impact on the economies of countries where bans are introduced, although I’m not sure how great it is.
So maybe there’s no need for an army.
But while I think that the economic arguments are the ones that are most likely to convince governments that smoking bans cost far more in terms of lost trade than they gain in improved health (if there is any improvement at all), I personally think that the greatest damage comes from the social fragmentation that smoking bans bring. Most people ignore this because the connections between people often seem nebulous and immaterial.
But let’s look at them.
Firstly there’s the fragmentation at a personal level. When I was living in Devon, I had a circle of acquaintances with whom I’d have drinks and play pool. These more or less vanished overnight when the smoking ban came into force. I also had quite a few distant friends, and these became much harder to meet up with in convivial circumstances, and so they gradually faded away. Result: 95% loss of friends and acquaintances. And the same will be happening with millions of other smokers to a greater or lesser extent.
Then there’s the community level. The pub by the river where I used to drink every day was also a community hub. It was the place to go to catch up with local news and gossip. That community more or less vanished with the smoking ban too. One of the non-smokers asked me why I didn’t come any more, and I said: “The smoking ban”. The loss of the community was a loss to me, but it was also a loss to all the non-smokers in it. And the pub landlord too. And the same was happening all over England.
And then there was the wider social level. Prior to the ban, quite a few of my long term friends had either been non-smokers or ex-smokers. And when the ban came into force, quite a few of them expressed their approval. Some even introduced their own home smoking bans. And I found myself in a world divided between smokers and antismokers, with a few tolerant non-smokers in between. The entire social realm had become polarised. And I had the misfortune to have had quite a few friends who turned out to be antismokers when the chips were down. And probably it was the same for many other smokers.
This seems to be an entirely new social division. Or at least one that I didn’t recognise clearly until 2007, when the smoking ban came into force. It’s a division that I now feel with great intensity. And if I discover that some once-admired public personage is in fact an antismoker, my admiration for them evaporates instantaneously. And I think that this social division is only going to deepen. Because if antismokers have deep contempt and loathing for smokers like me, I now feel the same contempt and loathing for antismokers like them. I don’t even want to know any antismokers. I don’t even want to meet them. And this is one reason why I think that if (or rather when) smoking bans are relaxed, there’ll have to be smoking and non-smoking pubs and cafes and restaurants, and this social division will become as real and as recognised as the division between Catholics and Protestants. You will belong to one community or the other. This division has been created, and it’s going to last a long time.
But there’s another social fracture that’s even more profound. It’s at an existential level. And that is that I feel that this England isn’t my country any more, and I have no place in it. That I have been expelled, and have become an exile in my own land. And that I am in a fight for my very survival as an autonomous human being, and that I am, as Rose put it, “under siege” after having been dealt, as Jax put it, a “sledgehammer” blow. And all the former loyalties are revoked. As Iro Cyr put it a couple of days ago, in respect of the quite different country of Canada:
“If a smoker no longer has any rights it goes without saying that he doesn’t have any duty or responsibility towards his country either!”
That’s a very deep and ominous division to have opened up in a society. In my own case that division expresses itself in my almost complete lack of respect for all the mainstream political parties, and the politicians in them, and for the mass media. It’s why I don’t have a TV set, and why I don’t buy newspapers. And why I no longer care how well the national football or cricket team performs. They may as well be the teams that play for some foreign country.
And I think that this division will also widen and deepen. And it’s a division that won’t be healed by the amendment or repeal of the smoking ban. And it’s the most painful fracture of all. And one that look likely to eventually bring civil war (which I always see on the distant horizon these days) as people seek to recover their lost homelands from the enemies that have invaded them.
All these things are losses. And none of them can be measured by money.
Which brings me back to the smokers’ army. Smokers are beginning to hook up with each other all around the world. I’m doing my little bit to help that process. And I feel a greater bond between myself and smokers all over the world than I do to my own country which has rejected me. It’s about the only thing I feel connected to these days. And it seems to me inevitable that smokers will continue to link up in growing numbers, and gradually acquire a global presence and identity and pride – and also power. I think that, from having no influence at all, they will come to acquire very great influence indeed. Because the world needs to be rid of Tobacco Control and antismoking zealot doctors and the rogue foundations with their toxic credos that nourish and support them. And it’s going to need an army to do that. And that army is gradually materialising.
And so, on second thoughts, there actually is a need for an army. Mere passive economic power will not be enough to defeat our enemies.