Smokingscot has his own blog, on which he periodically writes thoughtful essays. His latest starts with a telling observation:
I’ve often pondered what the real difference is between people who are unemployed and those who are “exiled” (to quote Ms Arnott of ASH). Semantics aside, there’s nothing in it. The unemployed may can’t spend money because they don’t have it, while the majority of smokers don’t spend money because they’ve got no place to spend it where they feel comfortable or get value for money. The effect on the economy is identical.
Isn’t that so true? What is the difference?
Recently I’ve been thinking I should spend more. I’ve got a full state pension these days, and I’m fairly flush with money. But what’s there to spend it on?
Smokingscot sets out all the little reductions in his own spending – pubs and cafes and restaurants no longer visited – consequent to the introduction of the smoking ban, and comes up with conservative estimate of a 2.2% reduction in GDP in the UK service sector:
The way I see it we most certainly have helped make the recession deeper and last longer than anything that’s gone before. We’ve wiped a minimum of just over 2.2% of GDP from the services sector and that will not change, of that I’m 100% certain. Yet it suits the economists and healthists to ignore that fact. The average Joe may have noticed a few pubs closing, one or two cafes change hands, or lying empty – and perhaps the odd bingo hall that’s shuttered. But he’d never believe that our not buying a few pints of beer, coffees, meals and sandwiches could be making such an impact.
That’s because they see us in the street puffing away and assume we do everything else exactly as we did before the ban. And why not? It’s a perfectly logical assumption. Average Joe thinks that, economists think that and politicians assume that as well. Fine, they don’t smoke, they see no reason whatsoever why we’ll do our level best to avoid paying their taxes on tobacco products, nor why we shun places where we feel uncomfortable lighting up and why, deep down, we simmer. Not in a negative way that’s destructive to us personally, no we simmer in a very healthy way, always seeking ways to defy the system. And for payback.
Reading this essay was like looking in a mirror. But I felt that there was a lot more that could be said.
Another effect of the smoking ban was that I stopped visiting doctors. I never really had any reason to visit them except to get sleeping tablets. But with the smoking ban, which has been driven by mad doctors in the high ranks of the medical profession, I started seeing the entire medical profession as enemies. This is almost certainly unfair, because I don’t doubt for a moment that many doctors aren’t virulent antismokers. But it remains the case that their profession has been co-opted by a bunch of elite antismokers. And so it’s been 10 years since I last saw a doctor, and 10 years since I bought a prescription, and 10 years since I last had a health check-up. Assuming that they’d roll their eyes and put me on about ten different expensive medications if I ever fetched up in front of them, I’ve completely vacated the pharma drug market. I’ve become a non-customer. And of course I never bought any NRT products either.
And also I stopped watching TV. And so stopped buying TV sets, and stopped paying for a TV licence. I’ve become a non-customer of the BBC and the TV retail business.
“Exile to the outdoors” is the very least of it. For me, the smoking ban meant complete expulsion from society. I’m unwelcome everywhere. I’m not just unwelcome in pubs and cafes and restaurants, but I’m unwelcome in cinemas, theatres, art galleries, museums, hotels, aircraft, trains, buses. And I’m unwelcome in France and Spain and pretty much every country in Europe. In fact, I’m unwelcome in pretty much every country in the world. So I’ve become a non-customer of all those places too. It’s now been 6 years since I last went outside the UK.
For the last few years I haven’t strayed further than 25 or 30 miles from my home. I only ever go anywhere in my car, and I always aim to be home by nightfall. The last thing I want to do is to have to stay in some horrid non-smoking hotel or B&B. And the result is that my garage told me a year or two back that “You don’t drive your car enough.”
It’s been a progressive withdrawal. It happened slowly. And it only ever gets deeper.
Some things that I still do: I still shop in the little shops and supermarkets in my local town. And in summer I sit and drink very moderately outside one or other of the local pubs. And I still vote, and still write periodically to my MP. I’m actually rather surprised that I can still vote. It seems like a bit of an oversight to have so comprehensively expelled me from society, and yet allowed me to carry on voting. I expect one day to get an email from my MP to say that it has come to his attention that I am a smoker, and he is sorry to say he will no longer be able to respond to any further correspondence from me. Whyever not? My emails probably reek of Golden Virginia, and leave a trail of ash in his inbox.
So what is there to spend money on? Food and drink? I eat well enough already. Clothes, shoes? I don’t need them in my dressing gown and slippers at home. About the only things I regularly spend money on are books and computing equipment, both bought online. I spend much of my days sat in front of one computer or other, reading blogs, news, or playing online games, or developing my own computer programmes (today I got constellations visible in my 3D orbital simulation model!) And all the blogs and news and games and programming are available free. And my own blog costs me nothing either.
I somehow suspect that my departure as a customer from so many markets is costing the economy far more than a few hundred pounds a year.
I get the impression that the antismokers thought, like Sir George Godber, that smokers would be “petulant for a while” before rejoining the society from which they had been expelled, and continuing exactly where they left off. But, rather like some of the asteroids in my orbital simulation model, I seem to have achieved escape velocity, and I’m only ever moving further and further away. For I have no wish to rejoin their new, smoke-free utopia. I hate it. I utterly detest it. And I will always detest it.
I have no idea how many people there are like me. I suspect that there are rather a lot of us. People who have become profoundly alienated from almost everything as a result of smoking bans. Some more than me, some less. One day, I like to think, there will be a comprehensive survey, along the lines of the ISIS survey I helped conduct a few years ago, in which the full effects of smoking bans will at last be made manifest to oblivious economists and politicians and pundits. I suspect it will make shocking reading.