The Canaries In The Mine

These days I see all politics through the eyes of a smoker. I was pro-EU until I learned, in January 2010, that the EU had declared war on smokers. More or less overnight, I swung from being pro-EU to anti-EU. After all, if smokers like me were no longer welcome in the EU, why should a smoker like me want to be a member of that club? In fact, why should any one of Europe’s approximately 150 million smokers want to be a member of that club? Furthermore, what future could any political project possibly have, once it had internally exiled 30% of its own population? Isn’t it Politics 101 to try to unite people rather than divide them? It was political lunacy for the club to kick out 30% of its members. And so ever since January 2010, I’ve seen the EU project as doomed to failure and disintegration. And I’ve not seen any reason to change my mind since.

But the doomed EU project is the only currently available European political project. It’s the only game in town. All the eggs have been placed in one basket, and now the basket is sinking. And the EU was always a basket case. It was always a mad utopian project from the outset, in exactly the same way that smoking bans are mad utopian projects. Such utopian projects are always doomed to fail: they are Titanics which come with their own pre-attached icebergs.

The UK was the first to climb into its national lifeboat. This should be no surprise, because that latecomer was always semi-detached from the EU project. It’s currently being slowly lowered towards the water by one end, while the other end remains tied firmly to its davit: its passengers are likely to all end up being tipped out of it into the freezing water below.

The other passengers have decided to remain aboard the ship, where drinks are still on sale in the ship’s warm, well-stocked bars, and the band is still playing The Ode To Joy. They all know that the ship is sinking, but they’re hoping that rescue will come from somewhere, that something will turn up.

Yesterday the French people chose to stay aboard the sinking ship of the EU. I think that probably everybody in France knows that the ship is sinking. So does everybody in Germany and Holland and Spain and Italy. But none of them can see what to do about it. The choice they see before them is one between remaining aboard the dying European political Union, and returning to national self-determination in their own national lifeboats. They’re not yet ready to débarquer comme les Anglais. Or at least 65% of them aren’t ready. But in another 5 years a lot more of them will be ready.

After five more years of political paralysis, bickering, terrorism, and migrant invasions, Le Pen will probably be swept to power. And at the same time equivalent nationalist political figures will have emerged in every other EU member state. It will be everyone for himself. Sauve qui peut.

It’s quite easy for the UK to leave the EU: it’s surrounded by water. It’s already floating offshore. But where exactly are the borders between France and Germany and Belgium? Or between Germany and Poland and the Czech Republic? Or between any country on the continental mainland and any other? The disintegration of the borderless EU will open up fault lines along every single border. Small wars will break out everywhere along them, and refugees will stream from one side to the other. That’s what happens when ships break up and sink.

I suspect it was French smokers who voted for the smoking Marine Le Pen. Because it’s the smokers who are the first to see the warning signs of disintegration. They experience the disintegration at first hand. But everyone else will experience it for themselves, sooner or later. The smokers are just the canaries in the mine: what happens to them will eventually happen to everyone else.


About Frank Davis

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36 Responses to The Canaries In The Mine

  1. The Blocked Dwarf says:

    According to the German TV news last night, the makers of the Champagne supplied to MLP for her after-poll party were advertising, quite cleverly I thought, with the slogan: “Serve now or put down and mature for 5 years”.

  2. Vlad says:

    ##I was pro-EU until I learned, in January 2010, that the EU had declared war on smokers. More or less overnight, I swung from being pro-EU to anti-EU.##

    This would be an obvious thing to do UNLESS national states themselves hadn’t declared war on smokers. Funny thing, both UK and France went ‘final solution’ regarding ‘plain packaging’ as opposed to 70% or so of the rest of EU.

    So if the only ‘benefit’ as a smoker of being anti-EU means having to buy UK duty paid tobacco products instead of getting the same stuff 2-3 times cheaper from the continent, then Ich bin ein Europäer. :)

    • The Blocked Dwarf says:

      Ich bin ein Europäer
      Ich auch! Moi aussi! Off to Belgium again at the end of the month. The trip last month saved me some £800. Even as wealthy as I am, that ain’t ‘peanuts’. You know what they say ‘£800 here, £800 there and very soon you’re talking real money!”

    • Frank Davis says:

      At least outside the EU there is a faint chance of reversing UK antismoking legislation.

      Inside the EU there is no chance of reversing EU legislation.

      • The Blocked Dwarf says:

        “At least outside the EU there is a faint chance of reversing UK antismoking legislation.”
        ‘Your word in God’s ear’, as The Bestes Frau In The World’s people say. I think you’re wrong but I hope you’re right, I really do!
        Inside the EU there is no chance of reversing EU legislation
        How fortunate then that almost none of the Anti-Smoker measures passed in the UK were EU legislation but rather Acts passed by a sovereign independant Parliament full to the brim with democratically elected UK MPs.

        • Frank Davis says:

          I’m not sure that we’ve really had a “a sovereign independent Parliament” since we joined the EU. Nigel Farage was fond of saying that 70% of our laws came from the EU, with our parliament not much better than a rubber stamp for it. When (and if) we regain our independence, I would expect the UK political class to become rather more accountable to the British people than they have been since about 1975.

        • Fredrik Eich says:

          I think the last round of EU tobacco laws were a directive, directives become national law with out even a rubber stamp by the EU parliament , let alone national parliaments.
          So after BREXIT at least parliament (UK) can repeal or amend anti-smoking laws which would be impossible at the moment

        • Rose says:

          Quite agree, Frank, I began to regret voting to join the Common Market not very long after we joined.

          1995 Too many apples so we were paid to grub up our orchards.
          “The trade sees the grubbing-up grant, which is intended to apply throughout the EU, as a step in the right direction. “It’s an attempt by the EU to reduce the surplus of production over demand”

          1995 Fishermen in Newlyn flying the Maple Leaf flag.
          “British fishermen from Cornwall and other regions, alarmed by an open-seas agreement of the European Union that will let the Spanish start fishing around British and Irish coasts next January, have been hoisting the Maple Leaf flag to show their sympathy with Canada”

      • Vlad says:

        If we were talking for instance about Austria or Germany, I’d say that’s true. No chance in the case of UK.

  3. Lecroix says:

    Reblogged this on Contra la ley "antitabaco".

  4. The Blocked Dwarf says:

    So after BREXIT at least parliament (UK) can repeal or amend anti-smoking laws which would be impossible at the moment– F.Eich
    Unfortunately it will also mean they can also strengthen them and it is 99.9999% they will. As I have said before, the first smoking Brexiteur who grizzles in my vicinity about having to pay £45 a pouch will get a punch in the gob.
    Maybe Frank is right but any loosening of the AntiSmoker laws is a long way off, maybe not even within our lifetimes. First the trials and tribulation of the End Times- to get all biblical and apocalyptic- have to increase many fold. Annual Smoking licences with compulsory ‘advice’ sessions, no smoking anywhere children might witness it, no smoking in any private home which a child might enter. All those are on the cards.
    If only UKIP had thought things through a bit more, they might still not only exist but be looking at a seat in the coalition government next month and had gotten their cake with a cigarette after.

    • Joe L. says:

      What’s stopping the UK from strengthening their Antismoking laws now, while a part of the EU? Wouldn’t the EU view the UK as being progressive and “leading the way” for the rest of the Union?

      • Nothing …unless you subscribe to the view that the UK Parliament isn’t a sovereign, independent government. Infact it is rather likely IMNSHO opinion that even before Brexit May will bring in new ‘guidelines’ or even laws (what is the EU going to do?) to limit the amount of tobacco one might bring back from the EU.
        ASH will certainly be pushing the ‘why wait years to do what is RIGHT and protect the CHILDREN.’ line- they already are.
        Whatever one may think of the EU, the misery of UK smokers is nearly all down to ‘ourselves’ to our elected representatives.

        • Frank Davis says:

          You’d think from what you say that our MPs did it all off their own bat.

          But in 2004, Britain signed up to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (a treaty), which committed its signatories (about 160 of them) to a whole raft of antismoking measures (all of which appeared in 2007 in the UK). And that’s why smoking bans have been rolling out all around the world in the signatory countries.

          You might say that the misery of smokers all over the world has almost next to nothing to do with their elected representatives.

          The UK government invoked Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty a few months ago. It should next invoke Article 31 of the FCTC, in order to withdraw from that as well.

        • You say Britain signed up to a treaty….remind me again whom the word ‘Britain’ means in the context you used it? Was it some unelected Brussel’s gnome?

        • Frank Davis says:

          By Britain, I mean the British government. Somebody (I don’t know who) signed the document on behalf of the British government. No, it probably wasn’t a Brussels gnome. Although some Brussels gnome almost certainly signed up the EU to the same treaty.

        • “on behalf of the British Government” so at the behest of our elected representatives, our sovereign independent Government?
          Yes some Gnome, David Bryne and the Greeks Presidency, did sign it for the EU after which it still had to be ratified by all the sovereign independent national parliaments. So our elected representatives again.
          British smokers can’t blame either WHO or the EU, our elected troughers sold us down the river. Parliament could have quite easily refused to ratify.

        • Frank Davis says:

          The UK government signed the treaty on 16 Jun 2003, and ratified it 16 Dec 2004. It became effective 16 Mar 2005.

          16 Dec 2004 happens to be the date when Sir Charles George, then head of the BMA and BHF, publicly called for a smoking ban to be introduced. That was when I first became aware of such an unthinkable possibility.

          I don’t remember any parliamentary debate on any of these dates. Only the Health Act of February 2006 was debated in parliament.

          Junican did some digging a while back

          A little while ago, I became acutely aware of the importance of The Treaty known as ‘The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control”. The most recent ‘awareness generating event’ was a statement from Milton MP (junior minister of health) in which she stated that the UK had no option other than to comply with WHO (World Health Organisation) demands for action on Tobacco Control. She said that the UK has ‘a legal obligation’ to obey the WHO. She isn’t the first to make statements of that nature.

          What was her justification for making that statement? It can only be that the UK signed and ratified The Treaty.

          What do the vast majority of us know about the nature of treaties? In fact, what do MPs know about the nature of treaties?

          I was convinced that treaties must, surely, be approved by Parliament and so I started a search of ‘Parliamentary Business’ (including Acts, Debates and sundry committees) looking for any mention of The FCTC Treaty being laid before Parliament, in any form, for approval and ratification. I searched for hours through Hansard looking for clues, without success.

          After looking for evidence of a parliamentary debate, and not finding any, Junican concluded:

          AND SO WE SEE THAT THE ‘FRAMEWORK CONVENTION ON TOBACCO CONTROL’ WAS NOT RATIFIED BY PARLIAMENT. We also know how this was done – by invoking ‘The Ponsonby Rule’. For we shall see in what follows that no attempt whatseover was made to gain the approval of Parliament for the Tobacco Control Treaty.

        • Yes I know Junican’s excellent article but my point remains…who ‘invoked’ (or rather didn’t contest) the automatic ratification under the Ponsonby (also an elected representative btw long before the EU), would that be,by any chance our elected representatives, of an independant sovereign parliament, to wit her Majesty’s opposition ?
          No matter which way one looks at it, it always comes down to the same thing; not the WHO or the EU imposed it on us. It was those people whom Brexit is going to further empower by removing what little ‘oversight’, what meagre protection, we had.
          Now you may be right that at some point in the future the British electorate will vote in people who actually give a toss about smokers, I doubt it but I learnt long ago that when a politician says ‘good morning’ he has lied twice already. But let us not blame the WHO and EU -who are no better than they should be- for the evil done by our elected whimsical darlings.

        • Frank Davis says:

          Under the Ponsonby Rule, a treaty is “laid on the table” of both Houses of Parliament for a period of 21 days, after which it is ratified if no formal objections have been registered.

          Are MPs notified of a new treaty being laid on the table?

          What if two dozen treaties are laid on the table at the same time?

          What if parliament is in recess when the treaty was laid on the table?

          I can imagine any number of ways in which it could be arranged for nobody to notice it or read it or be able to make an objection. And indeed, this seems to have been the case, given that nobody objected, even though there were plenty of people who could have sounded the alarm about a piece of legislation which was going to destroy the cultural institution of the British pub.

          This was a binding treaty which was drawn up by the UN (WHO), and signed and ratified behind closed doors by persons unknown in the UK government, before being “placed on the table” in such a manner that no MP or Lord seems to have noticed it. But for the UN, WHO, and persons unknown in the UK government, it would have never been “placed on the table”. It hardly seems fair to load the entire blame on MPs and Peers for having failed to notice what was placed on the table. It would be like placing the entire blame for an assassination on the police for failing to apprehend an assassin as he raised a rifle to his shoulder, took aim, and fired.

        • The Blocked Dwarf says:

          It hardly seems fair to load the entire blame on MPs and Peers for having failed to notice what was placed on the table.
          You mean our elected representatives were incompetent or more likely just couldn’t give a F***? I would counter the electorate get the MPs and the Peers they deserve. Imagine if the treaty had been about something important to MPs…
          And who, but the government consisting of elected members or those acting at their behest, connived to get the treaty auto-ratified or was it perhaps the HoC cleaning crew?
          Yes maybe not the WHOLE blame but the lion’s share, let us apportion that first and then worry about the skulduggery of the UN and the EU .
          Fair? So May getting more unhindered power than Cromwell ever dreamed of and persecuting smokers in ways that would have even had Hitler thinking ‘steady on’, May taking away my EU citizenship and what protection I had from her (ECHR etc) is fair?

        • Frank Davis says:

          To return to my assassination analogy, I would imagine that almost the entire blame for the assassination would be placed on the assassin rather than the police.

          I rather imagine that if Lee Harvey Oswald had been put on trial for the assassination of John F Kennedy, he would, if found guilty, have been sent to prison for a very long time (and perhaps even been executed). Yet despite the fact that no effective steps were made to prevent the assassination (closing all the windows, sealing all the drains) absolutely nobody in the Dallas Police Department or the Secret Service or the FBI ever faced a trial for negligence or incompetence or dereliction of duty. Nor have I ever heard of any attempt being made to do so. Nor even read of calls for it to be done.

          But it seems you would have laid the entire blame for the assassination on the Chief of the Dallas Police Department, and let off Oswald with a smack on the wrist as a nod towards his minor supporting role in the matter.

        • The Blocked Dwarf says:

          “let off Oswald with a smack on the wrist “
          I have been trying to get your analogy to ‘work’. Only parallel I can see is that Oswald and those nebulous, rabid anti-smoking, patsies for the EU/WHO (as you would have it) and Oswald were both mentally ill. Would I have let Oswald off with a slap on the wrist? Rather depends on how one views the ‘treatment’ provided in the asylums of 60’s America I suppose, then I would have seen him committed for life and that would seem a fitting ‘punishment’ for T.Blair esq et al I agree. Some involuntary doses of ECT could only improve the man.
          But if you’re suggesting that not one of our 600+ elected representatives ‘thought to block the drains and seal the windows’ then they were either guilty of incompetence or malicious afore thought. That’s why they are elected, to scrutinize, to weigh weighty matters and affairs of state. Either way they must shoulder the blame for their actions or inactions. It happened on their watch and blaming the EU, the UN, the WHO, the bloke down the road, is no defence -even if there be some truth in it.
          I may be being dense (wouldn’t surprise me) but nothing you’ve said so far makes me think any better of our elected representatives. Blair has made very clear HE decided to bring in the smoking verbot of ’07. Maybe the EU/UN etc put him up to it, that is totally irrelevant. It was his decision, just as it was the decision of the majority of those 600 elected representatives not to oppose it.
          Even at kindergarten most of us learnt that ‘johnny told me to do’ didn’t absolve us from guilt and usually earned us, if not a clip round the ear, then a parental comment of ‘and if johnny told you to jump off a bridge?’.

  5. Vlad says:

    In my opinion, if a country hasn’t declared war on tobacco, then it could pretty much relax any anti-tobacco law right from within EU. Look at Sweden and snus. Look at Austria (and others), they still allow indoor smoking. It wouldn’t take much political willpower to scrap the hideous packaging. A very good point could be made that US doesn’t have that shit on their tobacco products, yet their smoking rate (particularly in states like California) is lower than in EU.

    If on the other hand, a country has a health-Nazi government, no distance from EU can save it. Case in point, Australia.

    • Tony says:

      My tuppence worth on smoking and Brexit:
      No politician or ruler is likely to ever admit to being conned by the anti-smoking industry. Historically it’s only been when a new ruler comes to power that smoking laws change.
      The EU is “post-demodratic”. The rulers are not accountable to the electorate and cannot be removed. So any changes in the regime, short of violent revolution, can only come from inside and existing people will mostly remain in power until they all die of old age.

      On the other hand, once the UK becomes an independent democracy once again, we’ll have elections every five years. And at least in principle, the entire elite can be thrown out.

      So things may get worse before they get better but with democracy there is still hope.

      • The Blocked Dwarf says:

        UK becomes an independent democracy once again,
        So you’re telling me that if the HoC decided tomorrow to declare war on Backwardstania then , as things stand atm, they couldn’t because they’d have to get the EU’s permission first? I don’t recall the PM having to ask for Juncker’s permission to hold the plebis-cide nor did the Commission have to sign off on the Extra-judicial killings- and it doesn’t get more ‘independent’ than that.
        Of course the UK is an independent democracy, the only difference after Brexit will be that you and I will be far more vulnerable to the excesses of our democratically elected politicians.

        • Tony says:

          Obviously I maintain that the UK was well on the road to becoming a set of mere regional governments. Each with as much autonomy as a county council.
          The whole principle of the EU is that power moves to the centre. The EU plans to have its own armed forces and is already well on the way. The plan is that the armed forces of the member states will be subsumed within the EU forces. If we’d remained then invading other countries would shortly have ceased to be an option.

        • The Blocked Dwarf says:

          If we’d remained then invading other countries would shortly have ceased to be an option.
          Very possibly. But I said ‘as things stand’ or stood at the point of the plebis-cide. So you agree the UK IS currently a sovereign independent democratic nation with the power to declare war on whom-so-ever it chooses without so much as a ‘by your leave’ towards Brussels ? How much more proof of ‘independence’ can there be? I mean, declaring war is a biggy, perhaps the biggest acid test for any nation, right? Everything else, the Home Sec getting slapped down on occasion by some foreign judges does kinda pail in the face of thermo-nuclear Armageddon, don’t it?
          Do you really believe that any UK government would ever have given Brussels the keys to Trident? Hell, they won’t even countenance giving Nicky Fish in Scotland any say about them and the bloody things are parked in her country.

  6. Vlad says:

    Forget ibuprofen – grab a coffee: Why a cup of Joe is MUCH better treatment for chronic pain

    Read more:

    I bet that nicotine together with some other dopamine stimulating stuff in tobacco smoke make it much better than a cup of Joe in relieving pain. :)

  7. Clicky says:

  8. jaxthefirst says:

    To come late to the discussion about the EU versus the UK influence on tobacco control, isn’t one of the most important, if rather more subtle, points of the Brexit vote the fact that, now all the massive tasks of running a country (really running it, that is, not just calling oneself an MP and making impressive-sounding but meaningless speeches) will be coming back to the UK Parliament then the fact is that they simply won’t have time to prance around Westminster on their favourite hobby-horses coming up with increasingly convoluted “ideas” on how to re-mould society to try and make it into whatever they want it to be?

    Outsourcing the real business of Government by casually allowing Brussels to make all the over-arching policies on big, important issues, leaving UK MPs with just the administrative task of shoving the rules through our Parliamentary system (with, often, just a little bit of “fun” gold-plating just to spice things up a bit) has left them with far too much time on their hands, which they have used to very poor effect by indulging themselves in their favourite pet projects. This has allowed successive generations of MPs to adopt a sort of “super councillor” mentality, adding their weight and their MP status to small-scale, single-issue matters whilst neglecting to undertake the job they were actually elected to do – running the whole country.

    As a result, there are few, if any, MPs now sitting in the House of Commons who I believe actually have the parliamentary maturity to grasp the scale of the task which now confronts them in the Brexit negotiations, let alone secure a good deal in the face of people much more experienced in “big” matters than they are, (ironically the very Brussels individuals to whom they have so happily handed over their responsibilities). They’ll have to learn it all from scratch, and unfortunately the Brexit negotiations will be their first learning experience – in at the deep end, as it were. As learners, they’ll almost certainly make some truly howling mistakes, which doesn’t bode well for us as a country coming out of the EU with anything like the kind of decent deal we might have been able to achieve if we had still had some genuinely nationwide-minded statesmen in our MP’s midst. It’s like watching children trying to negotiate a big-business takeover; they’re way out of their depth. But hey-ho – it’s the price we paid for voting to come out (which I did and which, despite not having anyone in Parliament who has a clue what they’re doing, I don’t regret and would do again in a heartbeat). It was very much a “now or never” situation because maintaining the status quo certainly wouldn’t have improved the capabilities of our MPs to do their job, in fact just the opposite. Left within the EU, the next generation of UK MPs were likely to be even more vacuous and small-minded and their ineptitude and fiddle-faddling nature even worse than this current bunch. It’s just a shame that we didn’t decide to come out a few decades ago before the “super councillor” mentality had infiltrated quite so many of our MPs and while we still had a few left who we could feel confident were up to the job of the scale of Brexit.

    But the point here is that now, suddenly, they have got to do real MP’s jobs, despite their lack of qualifications, both personal and professional, for it. It’s a big job, it’s a busy job and it’s a job that should, rightfully, take up so much of their time that jollying about with their favourite pressure group should be relegated to something that they do in their free time, at their own expense and not as part of their official duties as an elected MP. To be honest, I think it’ll take a Government or two before we start to see significant numbers of MPs of the standard that they should be, and our Brexit “deal” (if they ever get one) will suffer as a result. Well then, so be it. In the meantime, there’ll be squeals of protest from this generation of them as they see their opportunities to promote wimmins’ rights, or transgender toilets, or tooth-cleaning classes in schools, or to take up Parliamentary time to talk about dog poo on local footpaths or make airy, right-on statements about how veils are empowering items of clothing, gradually draining away. And I think that batshit crazy ideas designed purely to keep alive an anti-smoking hysteria which has actually long ago passed its sell-by date, in ways that require the kind of mental gymnastics that Olga Korbut would envy, will be one of those things that many of them simply will no longer have the working time for.

    And quite right, too. Because, regardless of what ASH and their ilk say, there are, today, much, much bigger and more important things for MPs to concern themselves with than whether or not the smoking ban should be extended, or indeed relaxed (important though that is to me personally). Brexit is an acid test for MPs. Good ones, if there are any left, will recognise this and refuse to be drawn off on silly single-issue tangents, whether about smoking or anything else; bad ones won’t be able to resist the temptation whenever a single issue tickles their particular fancy. But the difference is, this time, we’ll be able to see the difference, and vote accordingly in the forthcoming election and the ones after that. In this mid-Brexit world, there is no longer any hiding place for MPs who want all the status and all the perks that go with being an MP, but none of the hard work, tough decisions or real, nationwide responsibilities that go with it.

    • The Blocked Dwarf says:

      Some really interesting points in that Jax, unfortunately it is now too late tonight for me to ponder your interesting point about MPs having forgotten how to be MPs. I feel there is probably a lot of truth in that. Unfortunately I don’t see Brexit making the situation any better, as MPs will simply become even more ‘yes men’ , if nothing else the plebis-cide proved that.

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