These days I think of myself as a soldier fighting a war. I wake up every day to that war. And I’m fighting for freedom. I’m fighting not so much for freedom in general, but instead for a single, very simple freedom: the freedom to sit in a pub and drink a pint of beer and smoke a cigarette. For I think that if that simple freedom is lost, all freedom is lost. And if people won’t fight for the very simplest freedoms, they’ll end up losing all their other rather more complex freedoms.
So I wake up every day in my trench, and rustle up a mug of tea, light a cigarette, and peer over the parapet at the distant enemy lines. For it has become trench warfare. The enemy were initially very successful, and I’ve had to retreat a long way to the particular trench I now occupy. Our side has been going backwards for a long time. And we’re quite likely to carry on being driven backwards, because the enemy retains the initiative, and is always planning new offensives.
The enemy is made up of people like Deborah Arnott and Stanton Glantz, ASH, most of the MPs in the Labour and Lib Dem parties, the EU, the UN, the WHO, and of course Tobacco Control. They’re very rich and powerful and organised. And of course they’re fighting against freedom. Someone like Deborah Arnott wakes up every day, rustles up a mug of cold water, and continues to plan to take away the freedom of millions of smokers, and exile them even further to the outdoors.
I doubt if she would see it quite like that. I doubt if she sees herself as the enemy of freedom. Because what I see as freedom, she sees as slavery. For antismoking zealots like her, smoking isn’t something people freely choose to do, but something to which they are addicted, something they can’t stop themselves doing because they are devoid of willpower. No, Deborah Arnott sees herself as a liberator, freeing enslaved smokers from their terrible, self-destructive vice. Because, in her view, not only are smokers addicted to cigarettes, but they are also addicted to something that is actually slowly killing them.
And this is probably how it always is in war. Both sides see themselves as fighting for something good and noble. They always do. That’s why there are wars. People become irreconcilably opposed to each other, unable to persuade each other through reason or debate, and so instead resort to force.
And the likes of Deborah Arnott use the force of law. They’ve made it illegal for people to sit in a pub and drink a pint of beer and smoke a cigarette. And the law is backed up by the threat of fines or imprisonment. And now, in HUD residences in the USA, they want to take away the freedom of people to even smoke in their own homes.
In time, this soft, bloodless war on smokers may become a truly bloody war. For what I fire off every day isn’t a bullet from a rifle or a howitzer, but an essay. Essays don’t kill anyone. And so every day, currently around noon, I load a new essay into the barrel of my WordPress blog, and fire it off into the distance. And the blog has a very long range. I can even reach Russia and America.
But I’m usually not actually firing at Deborah Arnott or Stanton Glantz. I’m not really very interested in them. I doubt if I can change their minds about anything. With my essays I’m trying to express what it’s like to be a smoker, and what I’m fighting for, and what I worry about, and what I hope for. I write my blog for other smokers. I’m far more concerned about the spirit and will and determination of smokers all over the world than I am about our enemies in the trenches opposite. I try to put into words things that they don’t know how to put into words – and which I can barely put into words myself. I’m always trying to put things into words. And every new essay of mine is a new attempt to say the unsayable.
For I think that, given that there are about 1.5 billion smokers around the world, and there are far fewer Arnotts and Glantzes, it will only take a slight stiffening of the resistance of smokers to the war that has been launched against them for them to start to push them back, and retake the ground they have lost.
So I think of myself as encouraging dogged resistance in the smallest of ways, even if it’s just lighting up a cigarette in the street outside a HUD residence. I encourage little acts of defiance. Because lots and lots of little acts of defiance add up to large acts of defiance in the same way that little drops of water add up to create rivers and lakes and seas.
Many people think that smoking is the least of freedoms, and really isn’t worth fighting for. They’re much more interested and engaged in fighting against, say, the EU. Fighting for the freedom and autonomy and self-determination of the British people seems to them to be much more worthwhile than standing up for smokers. So they’ll campaign against the EU, and for Brexit, and so on. They want Britain to be a free country again, where people make their own laws, govern themselves. I want that too. But the freedom of self-determination as a people is a very big and complicated sort of freedom. And the freedom to make your own laws is arguably also a rather paradoxical sort of freedom, given that laws (e.g. smoking bans) place restrictions on people.
But what’s the point of campaigning for such large, elaborate freedoms like self-government, national self-determination, and so on, if at the same time you allow the very least of simple freedoms to be taken from you? Like the freedom to sit in a pub and drink a pint of beer and smoke a cigarette.
And that’s today’s essay more or less ready to be fired off. Now I just have to carry it back through the mud and barbed wire, huffing and puffing, and load it into the WordPress blog firing chamber, aim into the far distance, and pull the lanyard.
With luck, the report might even be heard in Moscow. Or Washington. Or Beijing.