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.
And 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.
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.
So 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.