Something of a slight discussion broke out in the comments yesterday about whether oppressed and persecuted smokers should get organised. But they never seem to. And I often wonder whether they ever can be.
The smoking ban had an enormous effect on my life. I now think it had a larger effect than the last equivalent event that I experienced: the 1960s. But that’s just me. Most smokers don’t seem that bothered.
I meet them regularly when I sit outside English pubs in summer. They’re friendly, affable people. But when I get talking to them, it’s never about the smoking ban that had driven us both out into the garden, as if on a storm wind. Nobody wants to talk about that. None of them like it, but they don’t want to talk about it. They’d rather talk about something else. Like Brexit. Or Trump. Or the weather.
For them the smoking ban is like the weather: there’s nothing they can do about it. So why talk about it. It’s just something else to be endured. I imagine that it was the same during the war – WW2. That was another storm wind. Everyone was affected by it. But I bet they didn’t talk about it. There was nothing they could do about it. They probably talked about something else. Anything else. Perhaps it’s a general rule, applicable everywhere: the more important something is, the less people will talk about it. Not often that you hear people talking about death, is it?
I was living in Devon in 2007 when the smoking ban came into effect. Nobody liked it. But they didn’t think there was anything they could do about it. And the few acquaintances I knew would get angry when I suggested that there was something they could do about it – like write to their MP protesting against it (like I did, several times). It was pointless, they said. There was nothing that could be done about it. Just like there was nothing that could be done about the weather, or death, or taxes. This was our lot, and it was to be endured as best we could endure it. You just had to grit your teeth and get on with it. There was no point complaining.
But they all carried on smoking. And now that I’m living in Herefordshire, it’s no different. None of them like the smoking ban round here either, but they all carry on smoking anyway. And they don’t talk about it.
And they’re not ashamed of their smoking. They don’t scuttle away to hide somewhere while they have a quick smoke. They smoke just like they always smoked, openly and easily. In summer they’ll collect around garden tables, smoking and drinking and talking, just like they always used to sit around tables indoors. They don’t even mind when the smoking from one of their companions’ cigarettes blows over them. They’re neither bothered by firsthand nor secondhand smoke.
“I’ve had all the lectures on smoking many times,” one of them told me, in a rare breaking of the silence, “But I’ll always be a smoker.” And what was true of him was probably true of all the rest of them.
I suppose I’ve had rather fewer of the lectures than most. And I tend to answer back when I get lectured. There’s a look of surprise and disbelief that spreads over the lecturers’ faces when I tell them: “I don’t believe a word of what you’re saying.” Because I don’t.
If other people don’t answer back, it’s probably because they believe, or half-believe, what they’re being told. You can’t contest the science, can you? But that’s just what I do. I don’t believe the experts. I believe them less and less. It’s not just smoking I don’t believe them about. It’s also drinking and eating and obesity and sugar and salt and fat. I don’t believe a word of any of it. And I don’t believe in global warming either. Or the EU. Or that the Chelyabinsk fireball wasn’t a companion of asteroid 2012 DA14 like NASA says it wasn’t. You can’t argue with NASA, can you? That’s rocket science! But I can.
But I seem to be a natural heretic, a natural disbeliever. I don’t believe everything I’m told, or everything I read. I’ll question almost everything. I’m not a heretic because I think I know more, but rather for the precise opposite reason: I’m pretty sure that I know next to nothing about anything. And I think that, if they were honest, all the experts would be the first to admit that they knew next to nothing about tobacco or alcohol or food or exercise or chemistry or politics or economics or ethics or rocket science. Collectively, we humans hardly know anything about anything. And that’s why I find all these know-all experts and authorities so appallingly conceited: they’re like children who’ve learned to count to ten, and think they know all about numbers, or everything anyone ever needs to know about them.
But I doubt most smokers answer back when one of these self-styled experts starts lecturing them. And if they’re not answering back, they’re probably believing, or half-believing, what they’re being told. They can’t argue against it. They don’t know how to.
I overheard a snatch of conversation a week or two back. A smoker had popped outside for a smoke, and was talking on his mobile phone to someone. And I heard him authoritatively declare, of some mutual friend or acquaintance: “He’d live to 80 if he only stopped smoking and drinking.” And here he was, standing outside smoking as he said the words. He may as well have had a pint of beer in the other hand, except for the need to hold the phone. Perhaps it was parked on the floor beside him. But he was only repeating what everybody knows.
I think it’s why some vapers start vaping. It’s because they believe, or half-believe, what they’re told about smoking: that it’s slowly killing them. I’ve got a couple of e-cigarettes myself. But not for that reason. I bought them because I thought I might be able to use them as a cigarette substitute in buses and trains and hotels and art galleries. But, even though they’re harmless, they’re being banned everywhere too. And an instant new anti-vaping “science” has been created to justify it. But I don’t believe a word of this new anti-vaping “science”. And I don’t believe a word of the antismoking “science” either. There’s not much real science around these days. It’s all voodoo science. It’s all megaphone magical thinking. Just like it was back in 1600, 400 years ago, when tobacco first appeared.