The Shattered Society

I used to think that the 1960s was the most eventful period that I ever lived through. But now I think that the smoking ban outdoes the 1960s.

For a start, the 1960s didn’t start on one single day. It just sort of gathered momentum in the early 1960s, and had burnt itself out by about 1970. It was perhaps embodied in the story of the most iconic rock band of the time – the Beatles -, as they rose from obscurity in Liverpool to international stardom, before getting lost in Eastern mysticism and radical politics, and finally disintegrating and going their separate ways.

But the smoking ban started with a bang on a single day: 1 July 2007. It’s a different date in different countries. It was 2 January 2011 in Spain. Every smoker everywhere probably has a Date To Remember.

In Escape Velocity yesterday I followed Smokingscot’s economic analysis of the effects of the smoking ban – all the things that smokers don’t buy any more. And that’s an important thing to analyse, because economics matters. But the term “escape velocity” referred to the fact that I’d been expelled from society, and was never coming back.

Because really on 1 July 2007, I was hit for six. That’s what happens in the game of cricket when a batsman lifts a ball right over the boundary out of the cricket field, and is awarded an additional 6 runs to his score. I think the American equivalent baseball phrase is “knocked out of the ballpark”.

And it wasn’t just me. I think the same thing happened to pretty much every smoker in Britain that day. We were all hit for six.

In the game of cricket, after the ball is hit for six, it’s usually retrieved after a bit of searching, and the game resumes. But after 1 July 2007 I didn’t get retrieved, and the game didn’t resume. I just kept on flying away. I’d achieved escape velocity.

And so I think of Britain (and any country with a sufficiently draconian smoking ban) as a cricket field from which millions of smokers were batted like so many cricket balls right out of the field, in all directions, on one single day.

social_impactAnd to me that’s an image of explosive social disintegration, a society flying apart, a society atomised. Three years ago, in the International Social Impact Survey, I created an image (right) to try to show what that impact had been like. I saw it as something like a huge asteroid hitting the earth and spraying debris out into space.

You’ll note that my impact region only affected smokers. But I now think that non-smokers didn’t escape. Because in the comments today I had two non-smokers saying as much. Furtive Ferret:

I gave up cigarettes around 1990 and except for the odd cigar rarely smoked even when out. Part of the going out to a pub or restaurant was to enjoy the convivial company of my friends who did smoke.

When the ban came in the social life disappeared almost immediately.

And DP:

Next step after regaining freedom from the European empire is restoring freedom within the UK, including repeal of the smoking ban and I’ll be able to give up my 6 cigarettes a year smoking habit.

Because here’s a non-smoker who smokes as a protest against the smoking ban.

social_impact2So today I’ve updated the image to get a bit nearer the reality. I’m not a non-smoker, so I have no personal experience of what it’s been like for them. But I can well imagine that it could have been just as bad for many non-smokers as it’s been for smokers.

And what that means is that the smoking ban shattered a formerly fairly cohesive society. It’s been exploded.

No doubt there’s plenty of cohesion around still. Families, clubs, villages, communities of all sorts. But even they have probably not escaped the fall-out from the spectacular explosion on 1 July 2007. We have been left with a broken society.

I now think that the imposition of the smoking ban on 1 July 2007 was the biggest event in British history since WW2.

And yet it’s never discussed. It’s treated as a non-event in the mass media and in politics. It’s treated as something that maybe didn’t actually happen. But I think that it’s something that set everyone in Britain on one radial course or other, at varying speeds. And we will be witnessing the steady disintegration of society for a long time to come.

The recent near-secession of Scotland from the Union is possibly one large-scale manifestation of this process of disintegration. And the current disintegration of the EU is another. I could never understand how the EU could possibly survive after its parliament told 30% or more of EU citizens that they were no longer welcome inside it. And it probably won’t survive. The general collapse of faith/trust in the political class everywhere is another example of disintegration. Perhaps also the collapse in trust of ‘experts’ in every field. All the UK’s main political parties are in an advanced state of decay. And the old Queen is now very, very old, and not likely to live very much longer. And all the churches are in crisis too.

In some earthquakes, the ground liquefies, and entire buildings sink into the ground. The fragmentation of society is also its liquefaction. It no longer holds together. And all the social institutions resting upon it are likely to sink out of sight just like pubs and bingo halls and snooker clubs. And not just here in Britain, but pretty well everywhere in the world.



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21 Responses to The Shattered Society

  1. Harleyrider1978 says:

    People who won’t fight for their own freedom don’t deserve freedom! Silence is compliance! Admittedly I’ve always fought for the lil guy the underdog in all fairness when they were picked upon and the smoking ban is no different fight save those who can’t fight back. But for those who can but don’t the best they can do is just keep on smoking!

  2. cherie79 says:

    My son and best friend, both never smokers, are nearly as resentful as me. My son says all the atmosphere has gone out of pubs, not surprising as smokers are naturally gregarious in my experience. My best friend is fed up being left to watch the handbags while her sister and friends go out for a smoke! it’s not just smokers whose social life is affected.

  3. anonymong says:

    What Cherie79 said, never smoked but sans smokers pubs really aren’t the same and people going out to smoke really kills the vibe as it fragments the conversation

  4. Supergran says:

    Frank, I have NEVER known anyone at all who feels so much like me about the smoking ban as you do. I feel so angry. Everything in my life is changed. I loved going out (sometimes even on “all-dayers”), I loved being social, maybe getting away for the odd night at the lakes (or ANYWHERE – for a good drive out, few hours in a pub and then an overnight stay in a cosy hotel). Now the only thing in that last sentence I can do is “the good drive out” because as yet (and it will come) I can smoke in my car. Nothing at all is the same, summer’s on the way and it was always exciting to “up” the social life on lovely days, but – having been exiled through rain, storm, snow and hurricane winds for the winter (because I WILL NOT go out to stand outside in the elements), I’ve lost my “mo-jo” so to speak and can’t pick myself up for social life any more.

    I have NEVER encountered anything my whole life that’s knocked me for six like the smoking ban. It has been and will forever be an infringement on EVERY day of my life, for the rest of my life. My family and I went to a small family wedding recently. It was a small venue and about 30 odd of us who ALL smoked. We had to sit outside nearly the whole time and it was so freezing and miserable. Not even any point in getting “dolled-up” any more, because you have to have your coat on most of the night to go out for a cig. Can’t go to a pub where you dont know anyone, cos when my hubby and I go out for a smoke, when we get back our seats are gone. And because we hardly go out, it even affects our Christmas. We always loved going out xmas eve, maybe a few in a “lock up” xmas day (that the Landlord used as his perogative to let in friends before going up for his xmas dinner), maybe a dinnertime sesh on Boxing Day – but because we hardly go out, we are’nt “friends” with landlords & landladies any more. We used to have such close happy funny relationships with the pub owners and because we were such regulars, we were invited to things (lock in xmas day n stuff)! but now, we feel like strangers.

    Frank, forums like yours have kept me going for years, but I have a long list of people I’ve been reading and one by one, even they are going now. Please never leave Frank (Underdog and Dick P) and a few others, cos when you’re all gone, there’ll be no one left who understands, keeps the subject going, or even just gives a fuck yeah? Oh I could go on and on, but just wanted a bit of a moan really. Thanks for being here everybody!!

    • margo says:

      Frank and Supergran, you are speaking for me too! Ditto, ditto, ditto. I’ve become one of the ‘isolated/very isolated’ ones. Most of my (ex) friends have become non or anti (even some of the family). I haven’t stepped into a pub, cinema, hotel or restaurant, or gone on a plane or long-distance train for years. No point in getting dressed up as I have no social life now. And social life has become so bland and trivial, with no good conversation to be had, so I don’t want one.

      • Supergran says:

        Aww margo, its so sad. The impact is massive, devastating, and no one (government, authority or media etc) even talks about it (as Frank said). I have a small hernia which needs to be done. I CAN’T bring myself to go to the hospital (like my gp suggested) because I CANNOT bear some snotty young consultant telling me patronisingly “I WON’T do your operation until you have given up smoking for six weeks – and I WILL test you to see!!!!” I would like to reply – “how many YEARS has it taken you to get where you are – usually 10 (ish) and how do you think all that education and training was paid for? By hundreds and hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers money – and the most of that would come from tobacco now eff off! Prob wouldn’t get to see him again till me hernia strangled me!! hehe – oh well, at least it’s nice to come and see Frank and you all anyway.

        • Frank Davis says:

          I had a hernia op done about 10 years ago, and the consultant who saw me was very friendly and never asked a single question about smoking or drinking or anything else. So don’t rule out the possibility that your consultant will NOT be some virulent antismoker. The impression I get is that the real busybodies are mostly in administration, and most doctors just want to treat their patients as best they can. But I may be wrong….

        • margo says:

          Someone I know (non-smoker) just had an op. She was asked ‘Do you smoke?’ She said she didn’t and there were no further questions about it. So, I suggest you just lie, Supergran, say you don’t or that you gave it up 6 months ago, and maybe no more will be said!

        • Rose says:


          “I CAN’T bring myself to go to the hospital (like my gp suggested) because I CANNOT bear some snotty young consultant telling me patronisingly “I WON’T do your operation until you have given up smoking for six weeks – and I WILL test you to see!!!!”

          If they do, refer them to the Royal College of Surgeons.

          The Royal College of Surgeons is calling on ministers to make it clear to trusts that they are breaching health watchdog guidelines in discriminating on grounds of weight or smoking status.
          22 April 2016

          “Blanket bans that deny or delay patients’ access to surgery are wrong,” said Clare Marx, President of the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS).
          “NHS surgical treatment should be based on clinical guidance and patients should be dealt with on a case by case basis. In some instances a patient might need surgery in order to help them to do exercise and lose weight.

          “While it is difficult to categorically prove such policies are aimed at saving money, it is unlikely to be a coincidence that many financially challenged CCGs are restricting access to surgery.”
          “North East Essex and Luton CCGs require patients who smoke to stop and provide evidence of this through attending smoking cessation programmes before any planned surgical procedure can take place.

          Tim Wilton, President of the British Orthopedic Association, said: “There is no clinical, or value for money, justification for refusing to fund hip or knee replacements based on BMI or smoker status.

          “Good outcomes can be achieved for patients regardless of whether they smoke or are obese, even at BMIs of over 50, and these surgeries are highly cost effective: typically delivering sustained pain relief for a cost that equates to just £7.50 a week.”

  5. Supergran says:

    Oh I WOULD say I dont but it rankles you know. Makes you feel like a bleedin Leper! I am not ashamed of smoking, never have been, never will be, I dont tuck my cig into my hand so people cant see me, or hide behind corners (like some people at work do), so I just hate that I have to lie to people you know? Also, I heard that a friend was asked by a doctor who was going to operate on her if she smoked and she said yes, he replied: well you have to give up for six weeks straight before I will do the op and then stated: I can test for it, so no use pretending! Patronising obnoxious twit :)

    • tony says:

      I’m not certain what tests they have at their disposal. But the main ones would be for ‘cotinine’ (metabolised from nicotine) and carbon monoxide. Cotinine only remains around for a couple of days and carbon monoxide won’t stay around much longer. In both cases there are other sources as well of course. Such as CO in urban air and small amounts of nicotine in vegetables such as potatoes.

  6. tony says:

    I’m inclined to agree that the smoking ban has been the biggest event in British history since WW2. I am too young to remember British life before or during the war. The death and destruction of WW2 cannot be compared with the smoking ban.

    But in terms of social division, destruction of communities and cultural damage, I’d say it was a bigger event. Maybe the biggest event since the restoration of the monarchy (1660) or even the civil war. Most of the pubs in my neighbourhood have closed forever. They had all been vibrant centres of the community for up to two hundred years or so.

    I often drive through other areas nearby and see new blocks of flats where pubs used to be. I can’t always be certain of my memory unless I knew the area very well.
    So it is as though they never existed. The centrepieces of British culture and community simply airbrushed from history. I think this has been a huge disaster.

    As Hilaire Belloc put it:
    “When you have lost your inns drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England”

    Unfortunately, the political class and the self righteous chattering classes that dominate the media never took to pubs in the first place. Probably seeing them as too ‘common’. No doubt they would have cheered Mao’s cultural revolution too if they’d lived in China at the time.

    I also suspect that many non smokers are innocently puzzled at the loss of pubs and pub culture. I don’t think they understood the central role of smoking. Probably because prior to the ban, contrary to the propaganda, smoking was not particularly noticeable.

    • Furtive Ferret says:

      There was a piece on The One Show (BBC1) last night about closed pubs and pubs that had been saved by their “communities”. Not once did anyone mention the smoking ban as a possible cause of mass closures.

      Maybe it’s completely against editorial policy i.e. ignore it like smoking in pubs never happened.

    • Frank Davis says:

      I’m not sure I’m prepared to compare it to WW2 or the Civil War yet.

      • Tony says:

        I’m only talking about the social divisions it caused. In many ways I think WW2 brought communities together. I’m certainly not comparing the overall destruction caused by WW2, with the ban. And I recognise that the civil war was far worse on all counts.

  7. Reblogged this on The Last Furlong and commented:
    I have just published 4 posts on Ambient abuse. If anything us abuse – the smoking ban is. Read this wonderful blog by Frank Davis – and the comments too!

  8. jaxthefirst says:

    I, too, sometimes feel that I have reached “escape velocity.” I do sometimes wonder whether, if the ban was lifted tomorrow, would I bother going back to pubs and bars and restaurants and all the other places? In all honesty, I probably would, but there’d be an underlying sense of resentment that they were only now allowing me back into their establishments because they were permitted to – not because they actively wanted me back.

    I feel that way where I work, too, where my (usually pretty reasonable) employers decided to “gold plate” the required restrictions by banning smoking inside and out on all company premises. As a result, I no longer take my lunch with colleagues in the staff canteen, but instead leave the premises with a packed lunch and a good book and, of course, my ciggies. A few days ago, I’d forgotten to bring in my sarnies and was commenting to a colleague that I would be popping down to the local shop to buy some and she said: “Why don’t you come to lunch with us?” But, do you know, I just didn’t want to. I really felt that the kind of people who had either simply not noticed, or didn’t care, that I was no longer one of their regular “crowd” – until something like a forgotten lunch brought it to their attention – probably weren’t the kind of people that I particularly wanted to be spending my precious free time with.

    And I feel that about virtually all of the non-smokers I know these days (with one or two notable exceptions). It isn’t that they have actively campaigned for my exile in the way that the loud, crusading anti-smoking groups (and individuals) have, but there is a sense of betrayal that accompanies their deafening silence and their total inability to comprehend the effect that the ban has had on me and many of their other, smoking colleagues or friends. In that sense, I feel that the damage caused by the ban to thousands, possibly millions, of human relationships may well be – even if only at a mild, low level – irreparable. As they say, when the chips are down you find out who your real friends are, and when those you thought were good friends turn out not to be quite as good as you thought they were, that’s a very hard thing to forget, even when times get better.

    • Jude says:

      Yep, I can relate to this. Even though I no longer smoke, but vape instead, I don’t feel like I want to be around those that supported the smoking bans, or didn’t even notice them. I don’t want the arguments involved just to be able to vape in a pub or where ever, I’m not going to beg for a reprieve because I no longer smoke. To me the principle remains the same, and I probably wouldn’t go back to the pubs, restaurants, the homes of anti-smokers, even if I gave vaping away as well.

  9. Smoking Lamp says:

    I think it’s pretty clear that smoking bans have fractured communities and caused extreme division. This is actually reaching a critical point as outdoor bans are added to the indoor workplace and pub/bar bans. By limiting smoking patios smokers are being forced totally away from social settings.

    Of course this has a drastic toll on bars and pubs. in New Orleans (according to a Times-Picayune/ poll) 53.88% of those responding said: “I don’t go to bars and clubs as often as I did when I could smoke.” Despite this majority the powers that be (the City Council and the Times-Picayune/ which censored comments opposing the ban) claim the ban is a success. Of course the paper has avoided reporting the results. (The poll is now closed but the results to “Has New Orleans’ smoking ban changed your habits?” are at .)

    Obscuring opposition to smoking bans is part and parcel of the antismoker playbook and needs to be publicized and countered at every step…

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