I never used to be this way. But these days I judge people by how antismoking they are. Nothing else matters. That’s all I want to know about anyone.
If I find out that someone is an antismoker, their fall from grace can be very precipitate. I had a pretty high opinion of the philosopher Karl Popper – author of The Open Society and its Enemies – until I found out last week that he was a virulent antismoker, at which point all that stuff about ‘open’ societies started to look horribly empty.
I’ve been listening to Rush Limbaugh. Guess what boosted my opinion of him? That’s right: he smokes cigars.
When I got interested in Donald Trump back in July, the first thing I wanted to find out about him was whether he was an antismoker. I found out that he doesn’t smoke or drink (not even coffee). But I also found out that he fought against smoking bans imposed on one of his casinos. So the jury is still out. But right now he looks like a tolerant non-smoker rather than an antismoker. But I’m still not sure.
I judge political parties by whether they’re antismoking. In Britain that means I’ll never vote Labour, because it was Labour that brought in the 2007 UK smoking ban. 90% of their Westminster MPs voted for it, including current leader Jeremy Corbyn. And 95% of Lib Dem MPs voted for it too, so Lib Dems are even worse than Labour. To think I used to vote for them! By contrast only about 35% of Conservative MPs voted for the smoking ban. Which was cause for hope that when they got into power in 2010, they’d act to relax the ban. They didn’t. They’ve even added plain packaging.
The only party that’s left is Nigel Farage’s UKIP. And Nigel Farage is a strong campaigner against smoking bans. He came to speak at Stony Stratford a few years back. And that wasn’t the first or last time he went there.
I get the impression that it’s much the same in the USA. The American left seems to be pretty thoroughly antismoking. But while the American right doesn’t seem to be quite so antismoking, it never does anything about it – just like UK Conservatives.
It’s not just political parties, but also political institutions. So when the EU parliament voted for an EU smoking ban a few years back, my belief in the EU collapsed. I’d been quite pro-Europe up until then. No longer.
It puzzles me that smoking bans aren’t as hot political issues as immigration, the EU, or the Islamic State. But nobody ever talks about them. Even Nigel Farage only mentions them occasionally, although I know he hates them. A quarter or a fifth of the population is “exiled to the outdoors”, and nobody mentions it! Isn’t that just crazy?
Have they all drunk the kool-aid? Maybe they have. I was listening to Rush Limbaugh talking recently about some hotel he’d stayed in where there was only one bedroom in which he could smoke cigars. Did he use it as an opportunity to attack illiberal freedom-destroying smoking bans? No, he didn’t. There wasn’t even a hint of protest.
But on the other hand, the self-congratulation that you used to hear after the UK smoking ban was introduced seems to be muted. I recently read an article by Tony Blair outlining the achievements of New Labour. And the smoking ban didn’t get mentioned.
It’s an uncanny silence.
But then perhaps that’s because smokers themselves seldom make a big issue of smoking bans. They mostly just endure them resignedly and stoically. They don’t like them. But they never protest about them. And when I get talking to smokers in pub gardens, they never mention the smoking ban, even though that’s the reason they’re sitting outside talking to me. Back when the smoking ban came in, when I was living in Devon, my smoking acquaintances would get quite angry when I suggested that they might protest against it. Maybe just write to their MP. It was ‘pointless’, they would angrily tell me. Nothing could be done.
But at least I know that they all detest smoking bans. They might not protest about it, but they still hate what’s been done to them all the same. Who wouldn’t? And perhaps that’s part of the growing disillusionment with the EU and the European and American political class. A quarter or more of the population has been “exiled to the outdoors”, and although they voice no protest, they’ve become disillusioned. And with every new exclusion (parks, beaches) and every new insult written on a cigarette pack, that disillusionment only gets deeper. And what isn’t being expressed in words will find its expression in some other way.
It’s why I think that one day there’ll be an explosion. It’ll start somewhere in the world. I don’t know where. And it’ll propagate rapidly all around the world, in all the places where vindictive and spiteful smoking bans have been introduced – which is pretty much everywhere. It’ll be a global explosion of pent-up anger.