A few days back, in the Smoky Drinky Bar, Emily mentioned in passing that one of her smoking friends didn’t think smoking bans really mattered.
And I was thinking this morning that probably that’s the way most smokers think about them. They don’t really matter. And that’s why they never speak up against them. Why should they speak up about something that doesn’t really matter?
Does it really matter if you can’t smoke in some places any more? The smoking bans have been slowly creeping in for many years. In public transport. In cinemas. And there were always smoking bans in churches. Those never bothered me too much. So why should I be bothered about the extension of smoking bans to pubs and cafes and restaurants? Why do I think that this matters when I didn’t think the other bans mattered?
In fact, I think those earlier bans did matter to me. I can remember when smoking was banned on the London Underground sometime back around 1970, and being dismayed about it, and lighting up. But it was only a brief restriction. I didn’t spend all my time riding trains. But I started spending less time on trains. And also buses. Because I no longer liked them. One good thing about having your own car is that you can smoke in it, although of course even that is under threat now.
I also remember when cinema smoking bans were introduced. The old cinemas in the 1950s and 1960s were smoky places. Part of their charm lay in the projection lights beaming through the smoke. Once smoking was banned they lost their atmosphere, and became chilly unwelcoming places. And I stopped going to them.
In fact, maybe I stopped going to church because smoking was banned in them, and I no longer really wanted to go. Churches had always been cold, unwelcoming places. In fact, I started smoking round about the time I stopped going to church, although I didn’t associate the two at the time.
My response to smoking bans has always been to avoid them. I don’t use public transport if I can help it. And I don’t visit cinemas or museums or art galleries. And now I don’t go to pubs and cafes and restaurants either, except as briefly as possible. And when friends ban smoking in their homes, I no longer visit them. Why should I want to go where I am not welcome? And these days I don’t feel welcome anywhere, except in my own home, and my own car, and in a few pub gardens (and then only in summer).
We tend to think of smoking being banned in places. But actually they are bans in time. The church smoking ban only came into effect on Sundays (right), The train smoking bans only applied during the weekday rush hour. The cinema smoking bans only applied in the evenings for an hour or two. So smoking bans take away notches of free time. It’s in that manner that freedom is slowly taken away. And once lost, it seems that it never returns.
Each small loss of freedom doesn’t matter very much in itself. But they gradually add up to be completely oppressive.
I came of age in a time when a great many freedoms were being gained. By women. By black people. By homosexuals. By writers. By children (co-educational schools, end of corporal punishment). It was a time when freedoms were being gained. And now freedom is slowly being lost – although not for women and blacks and homosexuals, whose new freedoms are carefully guarded. It’s all the other freedoms that are vanishing.
Perhaps societies are always slowly oscillating between freedom and constraint. And one era of liberality is shortly after followed by an era of restriction. And the current era is one of mounting restrictions upon everything.
In the USA, the Second Amendment right to bear arms is under intensive attack. Here in the UK we never had that right. Or if we did, we lost it round about the same time that smoking started being banned. It’s something that has never bothered me because I’ve never wanted to own or carry a gun (although now I increasingly feel that I’d quite like to own a submachine gun and a few hundred rounds of ammunition). I think the US Second Amendment right is an important right for US citizens.
Also in the USA, the First Amendment right to free speech is under mounting attack, with calls to ban “hate speech”, and disapproved speakers being “no -platformed”. Political Correctness entails bans on the use of some words. And that places little restrictions, here and there, on the spoken and written word, much like smoking bans. You can’t say this, and you can’t say that.
I wonder if Emily’s friend would mind having her freedom of speech abridged? Would she mind if a few little legal restrictions on speech were introduced? Such as not being able to say “cadaver” or “corpse” or “dead body”? I bet she wouldn’t mind at all, if she hardly ever uses those words. Maybe she wouldn’t even mind if she worked as a mortician, surrounded by dead bodies. Would it matter?
When I was at school, there were lots of periods of compulsory silence. We were supposed to remain silent in classes (except when asking the teacher questions). We were often required to be silent as we went from one class to another. We were really only allowed to speak in our free time (which included meals), and we didn’t have very much of that. And of course we had to remain silent in church.
And, seeing as ‘health’ is the only thing that seems to matter these days, couldn’t there be a case made for compulsory silence in public places – in pubs and bars and restaurants? After all, if the smoke and carbon dioxide that comes out of my mouth is a health threat, aren’t the words just as much a threat? If I say something that makes someone angry, doesn’t that increase the likelihood of them having an apoplectic fit or a heart failure or asthma attack? Wasn’t it said during WW2 that “Loose Lips Cost Lives”. And isn’t laughter a bit like having a fit of hiccups or coughing?
RdM posted up a sign in an Auckland shopping mall a few days ago.
Wouldn’t it be simple enough to add . Talking at the bottom? And would it matter?
Is it any different from all those road signs which say No Right Turn or No Overtaking or No Stopping? They don’t matter very much either, do they? And they’ve been spreading like a cancer on UK roads for many, many years now. There hardly used to be any of them back in the 1950s.
I think they all matter. Because, in their totality, they add up to a full scale assault upon every form of freedom. In some ways, smoking bans are the least of it. And it’s been going on for 5o years or more. It never stops.