I was trying to think this morning what had happened to get lots of people to get scared not just of smoking, but also scared of tobacco smoke.
It was something that happened very slowly, in my experience. I lived for many years in a shared flat. And nobody was bothered by my smoking until towards the end of my time there. My landlady, who was also a good friend of mine, used to regularly come up to visit me and bum a roll-up off me. When I first knew her she smoked, but most of the time I knew her she never bought cigarettes. And in fact over the 30+ years I knew her, she gradually changed from being a smoker to an antismoker. Towards the end, when she came up to get a roll-up off me, it would be apologetically, and saying out loud, “I really shouldn’t.” And then shouldn’t became didn’t. And then didn’t turned into banning smoking at the dinner parties she used to throw. I was present at the first one, held in her flat, when she steadfastly refused to allow anyone to smoke, and half the guests walked out to smoke on the landing. Sometime around the same time I remember her long time ex-smoking boyfriend lighting up a cigarette at one of her dinner parties, and she expressed shock that he’d done it.
“Haven’t you stopped smoking?” she asked him incredulously.
“Yes, I have,” he said as he puffed away. “But a cigarette every now and then doesn’t matter.”
And she looked rather cross and confused.
Other people were also gradually banning smoking in their own homes. And becoming vegetarians. But it was all very gradual. It didn’t happen overnight. In many ways, the 2007 UK smoking ban was the culmination of a cultural change that had been taking place for decades.
Not like the arrival of pot in the 1960s. That happened, in my personal experience, literally overnight, in late June 1968. I was living in a university hall of residence, and I had a whole bunch of friends there. I’d gone off to Zurich for a week with the entire class on some school outing, and when I got back all my friends were having fits of giggles, and sitting on the floor. I was shocked. I wouldn’t touch whatever the stuff was that they’d started smoking. I didn’t want to become a Drug Addict. I thought they’d all gone mad. But the madness never went away. When they returned to the university at the end of the summer, they were still smoking the stuff, but over the summer they’d also grown their hair long. And they’d stop playing squash like they used to do. And they’d begun to change the way they dressed, becoming more and more outlandish.
At that time, two distinct cultures emerged. One was the old ‘straight’ culture, in which nobody smoked pot, or sported long hair, or dressed at all outrageously. The other was the new, pot-smoking, long-hair, ‘hip’ culture. About half the students (usually in the science faculty) belonged to the old culture, and the other half (usually in the arts faculty) to the new culture. They lived separate lives. But they co-existed perfectly amicably.
And five or six years later, after getting gradually disenchanted with the crazy ‘hip’ culture, I gradually started returning to the old ‘straight’ culture. I got back into science, and also into computing. And I got into it because it wasn’t crazy. I’d got thoroughly sick of bad craziness. And have stayed sick of it ever since.
Looking back, I think that both the pot smoking wave of the 1960s and the antismoking wave of the 1990s were both driven by fashion. It was fashionable in the 1960s to smoke pot and grow your hair long and wear beads and bell-bottoms. And it was also fashionable in the 1990s to ban smoking in your own home, and become a vegetarian. Maybe if you were really ahead of the game in the 1990s, you’d also start fashionably believing in Anthropogenic Global Warming. It showed that you were one of the cool kids.
In the 1960s I was fashion-conscious, and doing the fashionable thing. But by the 1990s I was doing the unfashionable thing. And in the process I’d switched from arts to sciences. And from left to right.
And maybe that’s the essential difference between left and right: the left is fashionable, and the right is unfashionable. The left is new, and the right is old. The left is the future, and the right is the past. Being “with it” means staying fashionable. And staying fashionable is a full time job, if you want to avoid being caught wearing last year’s shoes/trousers/jackets/ties.
Maybe Marx and Lenin were the “in” thing in the late 19th and early 20th century? You had to have read them if you were to stay abreast of the current fashion. You had to have Das Kapital open on your kitchen table, full of bookmarks, for your friends to go “Wow! Cool!” By the 1960s, it was Marcuse you were supposed to read. It didn’t matter if it was unreadable. You just had to look like you’d been reading it. Fashion is all about appearances, never substance.
Maybe everything is fashion. Communism. Smoking. Antismoking. Environmentalism. Global warming. The EU.
And maybe when Michael Bloomberg banned smoking in New York City it was simply a fashion statement by him, to make himself and NYC fashion leaders, and take the initiative away from the west coast.
And Donald Trump is so very unfashionable. It’s so uncool to write your name in big letters on the buildings you erect. And always wear suits and ties. Or red baseball caps with “Make America Great Again” written on them. And sport orange hair. Who is this dork? How the hell did he get elected? Why is he still there in the White House?
If you’re someone like Hillary Clinton, you’re always having to keep up with the latest political fashion. She was an early opinion leader with the antismoking fashion. And (unlike Britain’s David Cameron) a late follower with the same-sex-marriage fad.
I found myself wondering this morning whether paedophilia and rape are also just The Latest Fashion. Hillary Clinton seems to have turned a blind eye to Bill’s rapes (he has numerous accusers, including Juanita Broaddrick. There’s even a whole Wikipedia entry devoted to allegations of sexual misconduct). What if Harvey Weinstein has been doing what everybody does, out on the progressive left? You don’t woo the ladies any more: you just tear the clothes straight off them.
If antismoking is a fashion, then one day it’ll become yesterday’s fashion. And it’ll become as unfashionable as it once was fashionable. One day the opinion leaders will start to row back on it all, and there’ll be a rush to follow suit. And, not wanting to be left out, Hillary Clinton and Michael Bloomberg will declare that they always liked the scent of good Havana cigars.