An interesting discussion broke out in the comments today when Walt suggested that if smokers had all boycotted pubs and cafes and restaurants after smoking bans were introduced, it would all have been different:
If at the very beginning of the bans there’d been a sudden massive and (crucially) sustained boycott, the immediate roars from the no-longer-hospitable “hospitality industry” might have influenced the politicians to repeal or at least soften their edicts because of a threatened economy, loss of taxes, rise of unemployment (which itself is a cost to government) and a loud lobby howling in their ears.
I disagreed, saying that since smokers comprised only 20% of the adult population, a boycott would have damaged the hospitality trade, but not killed it. Nisakiman and Michael M then came back and said that in pubs, smokers made up 56% of customers. So a complete boycott would indeed have been effective. Anyway, Walt went on to say:
But to the extent that maybe 80% of smokers did, in fact, behave according to the Anti’s predictions (would not sacrifice a social life for a principle … they did not stay away fast enough, long enough, and in sufficient numbers to penetrate the iron curtain and razzmatazz rationales of TC and their political and media abettors.
Well, we have some figures now for how smokers responded. And according to the Isis survey, after the ban in the UK about 30% of smokers seldom or hardly ever went to pubs, and another 40% went less often. If ‘seldom or hardly ever’ translates into 90% less often, and ‘seldom’ translates into 50% less often, that amounts to almost a 50% boycott by smokers. And if as Nisakiman says, smokers made up 56% of pub customers, such pubs would have lost 28% of their custom. Depending on the margins they were operating on, that would have been a heavy blow, but many would have managed to limp on, particularly if they’d managed to attract a few of the non-smokers who never visited the smoky old pubs.
My own local pub at the time, the River, was never in danger of closing. Because it had become a successful bar-restaurant pub (it even had a French chef at one point) which catered to the middle classes who arrived in their cars lunchtimes and evening, ate at separate tables, and then drove home. The locals (which included me), who actually talked to each other and formed a community, were being increasingly marginalised long before the ban came into force, in an ever-dwindling smoking area.
But I have an additional reason for supposing that a boycott wouldn’t have worked. And that is that I don’t believe that the antismoking zealots who introduced the ban gave one single damn what happened to pubs or cafes or anything else. In fact, now that we can see that they almost as equally condemn alcohol and food as they do smoking, they may even have wanted to close most pubs and cafes, as dens of iniquity.
For I don’t think that zealots (of any sort) care very much what the consequences of their actions might be. They do things because they think they are as a matter of principle the right thing to do. And as a matter of principle they strongly disapprove of smoking, drinking, over-eating, and any number of other activities. They are puritans. And they work towards an ideal, smoke-free, alcohol-free, obesity-free society.
My own morality doesn’t work that way. For me the moral value of any activity is measured by its consequences, rather than by the principles or intentions guiding it. And in my book, eating, drinking, and smoking are almost entirely inconsequential activities (despite what the antis shriek). And every single thing that anyone does has both costs and benefits attached. A drunken night out spent dancing on tables may be a lot of fun at the time, but the hangover the next day may be very painful. It’s a matter of personal judgment whether the costs outweigh the benefits. Whichever way, if some activity doesn’t harm anyone else, I’m not inclined to condemn it at all.
Not so the puritans. They have an inflexible set of moral principles, written in stone. Things are either right or wrong, and that’s that. And in their view Smoking Is Wrong, and people shouldn’t do it. And even if smokers switch to harmless e-cigs, it’s still wrong, and people still shouldn’t do that either, because it still looks like smoking.
The puritans don’t perform any cost-benefit analyses on any activity. Activities either fall into the category of right, or the category of wrong, and a puritan can instantly tell you whether what you’re doing is right or wrong. And to the extent that they actually get involved in cost-benefit analyses, it is always to assert that there are no benefits whatsoever (in smoking), and an infinite number of costs. Or conversely, that there are no costs whatsoever (in physical exercise), and an infinite number of benefits. Theirs is a black-and-white moral universe.
And this kind of moral thinking doesn’t just apply to eating and drinking and smoking, but to everything else as well. So smoky, smelly, polluting coal or oil-fired power stations are bad, and windmills and solar panels are good. And cars and trucks are evil, and bicycles good. And green is good, and grey or brown or black (like carbon) is bad. And the EU is good, and the nation state is evil, and the cause of all wars. And so on and on and on.
Faced with such moral absolutists (however much they try to hide behind pseudo-scientific epidemiological and environmental consequentialist studies), I still don’t think any boycott of pubs would have made any difference at all. These people know what’s right, and they’re never going to change their minds. If the pubs had all closed in weeks, they would have just gritted their teeth and said the ban was the right thing to do anyway.
Which leads me to think that the whole war that we’re fighting against these people is really a war about morality, a war about what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s a morality war. And in this respect they have the upper hand, because they’re always completely certain about everything, while people like me are still weighing and measuring consequences.
However, because they are unconcerned with consequences, the consequences that will flow from their high-handed edicts are likely to be truly terrible. And that is what’s likely to bring their defeat in the long run.