Most UK smokers will probably remember 1 July 2007. I certainly do. That was the day we smokers were expelled from UK pubs, and – as ASH director Deborah Arnott had accurately predicted – were “exiled to the outdoors”. I’ve been there ever since. Just today, since it was sunny, I visited a local pub, and as ever sat outside with a beer and a cigarette.
1 July 2007 was a day when the world turned upside down. And stayed upside down. Smokers had been welcome in pubs since time immemorial. And now, by an Act of Parliament, they were no longer. The world has never seemed quite right since.
I’m beginning to wonder if 24 June 2016 was an equally memorable day, for more or less the exact same reason. Because that was the day Britons woke up to find that a majority of them had just voted to leave the European Union.
For those who had voted to leave, the Brexit vote was a relief. “At last,” we thought, “We can escape this European prison!” We were delighted.
But for those who voted to remain, their experience that day was probably one of shock and dismay and disbelief. They are probably feeling something very like what we smokers experienced on 1 July 2007. For they also had just been expelled from a club in which they had come to believe that they were full members – just like smokers and their pubs. They had become exiles. Their world had been turned upside down. They are probably filled with the same disbelief and rage as many smokers were on 1 July 2007.
The irony of it all is that, up until the European Parliament voted in November 2009 for a European smoking ban, complete with show trials for prominent offenders, I had been broadly in favour of the European Union. But with this new blow, my enthusiasm for Europe was instantly snuffed out. The EU had just told every single one of Europe’s 150 million or so smokers that they were no longer welcome. Why should any of those 150 million smokers want to remain in the EU? I couldn’t see that there could be any future for a political entity that treated its own citizens with such contempt.
17,410,742 Britons voted to leave the EU. And I was one. I was also one of Britain’s 10 – 13 million smokers. Perhaps they were all smokers? But for the fact that the EU had voted to “exile them to the outdoors” all over Europe, I imagine that I – and a great many other smokers – would have voted to remain. And most likely Britons would have woken up on 24 June to find they had voted to remain inside the EU.
In this manner, the shock of expulsion from society that was experienced by smokers on 1 July 2007 is now being experienced by a great many more people – and most likely the kind of “progressives” who were quite happy to see smokers expelled from pubs.
One expulsion has led to another expulsion. It has gone full circle. If smokers hadn’t been expelled from society in 2007 (and again in 2009), they wouldn’t have voted to leave the EU in 2016. And everybody might still be content.
As it is, there are now a great many more people who have seen their world turned upside down, and who are not in the least bit content.