I was thinking today how Tobacco Control must have imagined smoking bans would work. I guess that if you’re a fully paid up Tobacco Controller, you probably see tobacco as pretty much the most evil thing in the world, killing millions of people. You probably never question this. For you, that’s a known Fact Of Life. You have no doubt whatsoever that, if human society could rid itself of its tobacco addiction, the world would be a much, much better place. People would be healthier, fitter, happier, and so on.
And so you probably readily agreed with the idea that tobacco should be depicted as being more and more dangerous, and smokers as less and less likeable or acceptable people to have around. The vile habit of smoking would slowly but relentlessly squeezed out of society, like pus out of an infected wound. It would mean changing the culture.
And this is more or less what has happened. Smoking has been depicted in an ever-worsening light. Back in the 1960s, it was only said to cause lung cancer. Now is is said to cause all cancers, heart disease, and every other disease as well. Furthermore even secondhand smoke is now said to endanger those who breathe it. And, at the same time, limited smoking bans began to be introduced. First on some carriages in trains, and then all of them. First the lower levels of double-decker buses, and then both levels. First the forward seats on airliners, and then all the seats. And then, when smoking rates had fallen from 60%+ to 25% or less, smoking was banned in all pubs and cafes and restaurants. And the demonisation of tobacco and the vilification of smokers rose to a scream.
The idea was to gradually ‘denormalise’ smoking, and make it an ever-more-marginal habit practised by an ever-more-marginalised subculture, which nobody wanted to belong to. In this manner, with steady nudging in the right direction, a formerly smoke-filled society would gradually be converted into a smoke-free society. And gradually everyone would get used to the new smoke-free culture.
Of course, there were bound to be a few die-hard smokers. But these would simply be ignored. In time, they would have to give up smoking too. Or just be let to die out, like some strain of malaria persisting in one or two marshes here and there.
And nothing else would change. Society would continue exactly as before, minus the tobacco smoke. People would still have pubs and cafes where they would meet up, but they would be smoke-free pubs and cafes.
It was all going to be a great success. And in fact, Tobacco Control has been trumpeting the success and popularity of smoking bans so much that the Controllers have started to introduce similar measures to gradually demonise and denormalise alcohol and sugar and salt and all the other great scourges of human health.
But I don’t think that it’s been a great success.
I think it’s been a disaster. And one day it’s going to be seen to be disaster.
One day they will see how much damage has been done.
Because what I think has happened is that smokers have been more or less expelled from society, and we now have a divided society. It’s divided into ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’. The insiders are the non-smokers who sit inside the pubs and cafes. And the outsiders are the smokers who stand outside. And this is a profound division to have introduced into society. And it’s a division that extends far beyond pubs and cafes. It’s a division that extends into people’s homes and workplaces. It reaches almost everywhere. And it’s a division that sets people against each other.
The response of smokers to smoking bans has not been to give up smoking. They have instead carried on smoking as much as ever. Smoking hasn’t been denormalised at all. But now they stay home much more often, visit pubs and cafes less often, and see less of friends and family – all of which signify social division. And very often they have retreated into a home culture where they meet up with friends at ‘smoky-drinky’ gatherings. And of course the more smokers stay home, the less money they spend, not just in pubs and cafes, but everywhere else too. All this is documented in the ISIS survey report.
And the social division that has been created only gets deeper. because when one person stops going to pubs and cafes, their friends also become less likely to go. And when they stop going, then their friends will go less too. And so on. And that’s why pubs are still closing, coming up on six years after the introduction of the UK smoking ban.
The division extends elsewhere as well. Perhaps as part of the denormalisation process, none of the main political parties speaks up for smokers, or pays any attention to them. And so support for mainstream political parties ebbs away. And since much the same goes for the press and the broadcast media (smokers aren’t allowed to appear in studios), smokers are bound to feel that the media doesn’t speak for them or to them.
Yet there is no public recognition whatsoever that anything like this gradually widening social divide is actually happening. It is simply supposed that the smoking ban has been a wildly successful measure like Tobacco Control insists it has been. And that society as a whole is just the same as it was beforehand, only now largely smoke-free. That there remains a uniform, common culture, shared by everybody.
In large part, aside from Tobacco Control’s raucous propaganda, it is probably that most non-smokers have largely been unaffected by the smoking ban, and so fail to see the gradually deepening division it has engendered. After all, if 20% of UK citizens are smokers, and they lost all their non-smoking friends (I’m not suggesting this actually happened), they would have lost 80% of their friends, while their non-smoking friends would have lost only 20% of theirs. And so non-smokers are likely to continue to believe that nothing has really changed, long after many smokers have concluded that a very great deal has changed.
But because I believe that the social division generated by the smoking ban is of a progressive nature, and the divisions are always slowly deepening, I think that a few non-smokers and pundits and politicians will gradually start waking up to it. They will start to question whether the smoking ban was such a great success after all.
I’m quite sure this going to happen, although I wouldn’t care to say exactly when. What I do wonder, however, is whether, when they finally address the matter, there will be anything that they can actually do to heal the divisions. Because, for the life of me, I can’t see what will ever achieve that.
Because, speaking for myself, I can say with 99% certainty that I’ll never be reconciled with the erstwhile antismoking friends of mine who applauded the introduction of the smoking ban. I simply don’t want to know people like that any more. I don’t want to know any antismokers at all. And regardless of whatever measures they might introduce, I’ll never vote Labour or Lib Dem or (most likely) Conservative again in my life. Nor am I likely to buy a TV set and watch the BBC or Channel 4 again, as I once did. And as my sense of exclusion gradually deepens, I’ll most likely keep on adding further sanctions.
So, even if the smoking ban is lifted one day (and I firmly believe that it will be), I think we’ll find that we are left with a permanently divided society. There will be pubs for smokers, and pubs for non-smokers. Jobs for smokers, and jobs for non-smokers. And so on. Nobody will have any illusions about there being One Nation or One Culture any more. It’ll be just like Catholics and Protestants. One side will be true believers in Tobacco Control. And the other side will be complete disbelievers.
Because, while antismokers see tobacco as the root of all evil, I now think that Tobacco Control is the root of all evil.
As does Nannying Tyrant’s Jay: