I’ve been remembering today the reactions of smoking friends to smoking bans.
I haven’t been back to Spain since the Spanish smoking ban came into force in early 2011. But mi amiga in Spain wasn’t at all bothered about it like I was. Yet she smoked just as much as I did. Why wasn’t she bothered? And why wasn’t she bothered, particularly when she was a lawyer? Shouldn’t lawyers be the first to object to bad laws?
The answer, I think, may have been evident on the very first day I met her, when I arrived at El Prat airport in Barcelona one day in 2001, when smoking bans were still unimaginable. When we got to her big white BMW in the car park, and I climbed in next to her, she opened the window and started frantically waving her hands and apologising for the faint odour of tobacco smoke in the car. I hadn’t even noticed it, and remarked that I wouldn’t have been bothered by it anyway, because I was a smoker too. After that, we both used to smoke in her car wherever we went.
But the little episode stuck in memory, and 10 years later I wondered whether there was a clue there to why she accepted the Spanish smoking ban so easily. And the clue was that she was already apologising for smoking 10 years before smoking got banned.
If that was one clue, the other clue was that, living with her mother, she adhered to her mother’s ban on smoking indoors. So whenever she wanted a cigarette, she’s head outside into a little patio. Or she’d walk all the way round the block with her dog.
The truth of the matter was that, 10 years before the Spanish smoking ban, she was already completely conditioned to accept informal smoking bans, and also very ready to apologise for smoking. She’d given in already. They could have brought in the ban 10 years earlier, and she wouldn’t have objected.
There was a similar circumstance with one of my English friends. In one married couple I knew, the wife was a never-smoker and the husband an always-smoker. Then one day she banned smoking in their flat, and it was the same business of traipsing outside to the garden. I remember thinking that, in his position, I’d have regarded her ban as grounds for divorce. And in fact, a few years later, they did get divorced.
But he was another smoker who’d given in to the informal antismoking mafia of the time. When the UK ban was announced, he told me very earnestly one day that he was looking forward to the ban, because he was hoping the ban would make him stop smoking (in the event, it didn’t). My former good opinion of him promptly fell through the floor. And I already didn’t think much of his craven surrender to his wife.
Another smoker, who probably never thought of herself as “a smoker”, was my landlady of many years. The very first time I met her, at a party, she was sitting smoking a cigarette very elegantly and statuesquely. But I never saw her buy any cigarettes. She always cadged them off other people, I think. At least, she subsequently cadged hundreds (maybe even thousands) of cigarettes off me. One of my vivid later memories of her in her very large Georgian house, was how she would come knocking at my door after some trying visit to her elderly and cantankerous father, who lived in another flat in the house. She was always desperate for a cigarette after one of those visits. She’d sometimes smoke two while telling me what a curmudgeon he was, and how incredibly demanding. Yet as she accepted my cigarettes, she’d always be saying, “I shouldn’t really…” as she reached out for them.
Perhaps no surprise that a few years later she banned smoking in her flat too. I guess it went with all the organic food she bought, and the feng shui, and Save The Whales.
One bizarre smoker I knew only smoked when he went to his local pub where, after the smoking ban came into force, he’d stand outside with all the other smokers. And yet he banned smoking in his own house! While still keeping packs of cigarettes in his jacket pockets ready to smoke outside his local pub! I never did figure out all the contradictions in that.
But the simple truth of the matter is perhaps that many smokers had already mostly completely surrendered to antismoking pressure from their peers. They were apologising and retreating long before there was even the glimmer of a public smoking ban.
Yet somehow or other I felt very little peer pressure. I’ve sometimes wondered whether there was some book I’d not read, or some documentary I’d not seen, which everyone else had, and which had scared the wits out of them. But I don’t think there was one. There was instead just the relentless antismoking scare stories that had been slowly ratcheting up in the media for decades. It all slowly got to them. Yet it didn’t get to me.
But then, I was unusual in that I started smoking in defiance of the dismal antismoker, Dr W, in whose house I once lived. I didn’t start smoking because all my friends did. Or because my father smoked. I started smoking after meeting my first antismoker, and realising that it was hatred of smoking, not rational science of any sort, that underpinned his beliefs. I lost my fear of smoking. So I’d already been inoculated against antismokers long before they showed up in numbers.
And I haven’t changed. Back in my student days, when I’d just started smoking, I preferred the company of smokers (of whatever substance they happened to smoke) and drinkers. They were the fun people to be with. They were party people. It took an effort to spend time with the people who didn’t smoke or drink or keep good record collections.
These days, if anything, my attitudes have hardened. I don’t want to know any antismokers. I used to tolerate them once, but not any more. If they don’t want to be in the same room with me, then I equally don’t want to be in the same room as them. It’s the stench of sanctimoniousness. I simply don’t want to know the kind of stupid people who are frightened of tobacco smoke. Or frightened of global warming. Or frightened of any of the rest of it.
They can all go to hell.