There were lots of interesting comments a couple of days back. So many that I ended up only responding to one by Nightlight, and not really fully addressing that one. I wondered why people tend to feel guilty about so many things – smoking, drinking, food, sex, luxuries, etc, etc -. I ended up suggesting that these minimalist, self-denying values were associated with poverty. And that while we’re not poor these days, we have lots of apocalyptic predictions of impending catastrophe: we might not be poor now, but we soon will be, after global warming/ice age/bubonic plague/nuclear war has reduced us to penury and subsistence living.
Anyway, while many of us have these life-denying values, we’re always going to feel guilty about drinking and smoking and so on, and it’s very easy for puritanical moralists to invoke these values and start banning things without meeting much resistance.
But quite apart from this, I think that for most people, regardless of their values, it’s simply not worth the candle to mount any resistance. And this is because, for the most part, too little has been lost for anyone to mount any serious resistance.
For example, long before smoking was banned in UK pubs and restaurants and cafes, it had been banned on buses and trains. First there were smoking and non-smoking compartments or carriages, and then the smoking compartments got fewer and fewer, and finally they completely disappeared.
I remember noticing the process, and being a bit annoyed with the final step, but I wasn’t annoyed enough to actually do anything about it. And nor, to the best of my knowledge, was anybody else. Why was that?
I think the answer, in my case, was that I simply didn’t use trains or buses enough, or travel sufficiently long distances on them, to warrant resistance. Furthermore, lighting up a cigarette wasn’t usually the first thing I wanted to do whenever I got on a bus or a train. Resistance – in the form of complaining – had a sufficiently high cost (time spent writing letters) and a sufficiently low benefit (time spent smoking cigarettes on buses) that it really wasn’t worth the candle.
It’s why the salami-slicing approach works. The smaller the freedom that is being lost, the harder it is to resist.
But, if you give these people an inch, they end up taking a mile. First they take an inch, and then a foot, and then a yard, and then a furlong, and then the whole mile. And with the pub smoking ban, they took the whole mile. In fact, they took 100 miles.
And that’s when I got angry. Because I spent a lot of time in pubs and cafes, and I regarded cigarettes as an essential component of the pub/cafe experience. You bought your beer or coffee, and then you sat down at a table, and lit a cigarette. Maybe you also unfolded a newspaper as well. Or opened a packet of peanuts.
And it wasn’t just that I was losing that pleasant experience, but – because I mostly met friends and acquaintances in pubs – also that I was losing an entire community of like-minded people. And not just that: I’d also become a second class citizen whose opinion was to be ignored.
So, unlike the UK train smoking ban, the UK pub smoking ban brought about the loss of a very great deal – which might be measured in thousands of hours of happy smoking and talking. And so now the cost-benefit analysis flipped the other way. I had lost so much that more or less any effort was justified to recover it.
And that, dear reader, is why I write a blog banging on about the smoking ban, upon which I have spent thousands of hours of my time.
But the same cost-benefit approach may also explain why most smokers don’t resist smoking bans. They don’t like them, but they don’t think that fighting them is worth the effort. And it’s not worth the effort because they didn’t lose enough to make the fight worth their while.
And it’s not too hard to see how that might be. If, for example, you’re a smoker who never goes to pubs or cafes, or who entertains friends at home, a pub smoking ban costs you almost nothing, and you have no cause to protest. And a lot of smokers who used to meet up with friends at pubs and cafes simply switched to meeting up with them at home, on private smoky-drinky occasions. It was the easiest thing to do. Such people didn’t lose their friends or communities. And so they hadn’t lost enough for it to become worthwhile to actively resist.
But I’d like to say of such people that, although they may not be actively resisting, by writing to MPs and other representatives, etc, they are actually passively resisting simply by refusing to give up smoking. Which is perhaps why, in the UK, the antismoking drive has moved on to make it harder for them to find tobacco (display bans), and harder for them to enjoy smoking (“plain” packaging covered with ever-larger antismoking images/advice), and more expensive to smoke (ever-mounting taxation).
For imagine if they hadn’t passively resisted, but had instead almost all decided to quit smoking, so that UK smoking prevalence had fallen from 23% to 9%? Smokers would have been disappearing from the streets and from outside pubs, and smoking really would have been being ‘denormalised’. And Tobacco Control would now be directing its efforts against the few remaining smokers. There’d be calls to “Finish the job of stamping out smoking,” or “Sweep up the few remaining stragglers,” with home smoking bans or outright tobacco prohibition.
As it is, smoking prevalence has hardly fallen at all (it seems it never does wherever bans are introduced), forcing Tobacco Control to adopt ill-thought-out new measures to try to drive the numbers down. And in this, they also now face a completely unforeseen new problem with the appearance of e-cigs.
I’m just thinking out loud (as ever). I’ll continue tomorrow.