I had the thought this morning that the circumstance in which smokers enduring smoking bans find themselves is much like that of POWs (prisoners of war) in wartime.
Most of them accept their imprisonment. Others do not, and try to escape.
I wondered how many British POWs were held in German camps during WW2, and how many of them tried to escape.
I discovered that there were about 200,000 British prisoners of war in Germany.
Over 200,000 soldiers of the British armed forces were captured during the Second World War and placed in one of the different types of prisoner of war camps run by the Germans until 1945
This was probably all ranks from army, navy and air force. The ratio of enlisted men to officers in the British army in WW1 was about 20:1. It’s currently about 10:1
The overall figure for the British Army in WWI was 21 Other Ranks (enlisted): 1 officer. In “combat arm” (line) units such as infantry battalions, the ratio was about 30:1.
Using the 20:1 ratio of enlisted men to officers, it looks as if some 10,000 British officers were held in German POW camps.
We can get some idea of how many of them tried to escape because the Germans put captured escapee officers in one single camp: Oflag IV-C, also known as Colditz castle.
Colditz castle was a very large castle in Saxony with at least 700 rooms.
By Christmas 1940 there were 60 Polish officers, 12 Belgians, 50 French, and 30 British, a total of no more than 200 with their orderlies.
By the end of July  there were a few Free French officers, and 228 British officers, with a contingent consisting of Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Irish, and one Indian.
Not all the prisoners in Colditz castle were escapees. Some were the so-called Prominente (celebrities) who included Giles Romilly, a relative of Winston Churchill, fighter ace Douglas Bader, George Haig, son of field marshal Douglas Haig, and more.
So it looks like there were only ever about 200 British officer escapees held in Colditz. Which means that only 200 out of 10,000 British officers – 2% – held in German POW camps attempted to escape. Even fewer actually managed to escape.
And this means that 98% of British officers didn’t try to escape. Or failed to escape. Or didn’t get round to escaping.
How did 98% of British POWs feel about their incarceration? The saying that “For you the war is over” was probably true for most of them. They were no longer in danger of being killed. Their conditions were tolerable. They got letters and Red Cross parcels from home. All they had to do was sit out the war, and sooner or later they would be repatriated. And there was next to nothing they could do about it anyway. They probably thought that anyone who tried to escape, or even thought about trying to escape, was rather mad.
Which brings me back to smokers and their response to their imprisonment (actually “exile to the outdoors”) by smoking bans. There again, it seems that 98% of them have accepted their lot, and only about 2% are resisting.
But given that there were estimated to be about 13 million smokers in the UK in 2007, 2% of them amounts to 260,000 men and women, scattered over the UK. That’s a lot of people who really don’t like the UK smoking ban, and would like to overturn it. That’s a potential army. And with 1.5 billion smokers all over the world, that’s 30,000,000 men and women: a large army.
The other 98% are probably resigned, like POWs, to their imprisonment. They think that resistance is futile, and escape more or less impossible. They have adjusted to life in the POW camp. They would like to go home, of course. But life in the camp isn’t completely intolerable. They can still smoke in their prison cells.
But there are differences. The POWs could reasonably hope to be repatriated when the war was over: smokers must expect to never be released. Most WW2 POWs were only ever held in prison camps for 2 or 3 years. In the UK, smokers have been held for nearly 10 years. For many of them it’s a life sentence. And if life in the prison camp is fairly tolerable, it’s always getting worse. The price of tobacco is constantly being raised, year after year. And the extent of smoking bans is always being increased.
It could be worse. In a mass breakout in 1943 from the death camp of Sobibor, which held some 700 Jews, the prisoners all tried to escape, and about 300 managed to reach the surrounding forest. The incentive to escape was, of course, much higher: life in Sobibor was intolerable, and there was no chance of ever being repatriated.