Tomorrow’s going to be a big day. It’ll be a bit like Stony Stratford, when smokers ( and maybe one or two non-smokers) travelled across England to protest against a proposed street smoking ban.
For tomorrow a bunch of smokers are going to travel to another little town in England, this time to meet up with another one of their number, to offer a bit of moral support, a little solidarity. And having done that, we’ll all turn round and go home again.
None of us have actually met each other in person, face to face, before. Yet we know each other quite well, having often met up in the Smoky Drinky Bar.
Later on this year, another couple of smokers will show up at my flat in Herefordshire. I will never have met either of them face to face, person to person, before either.
We’re all very different people. But we all share one thing: we all smoke tobacco. And we’re all angry about smoking bans, and the horrible treatment of smokers. Beyond that, we’d probably disagree about absolutely everything
For the war on smoking (and on smokers) is having the effect of bringing smokers together. Doesn’t persecution always have that effect? Would there be a Jewish state of Israel today if there hadn’t been the most terrible persecution of Jews a century ago? Would there even be an England if the English hadn’t been fighting with other peoples since time immemorial?
I never used to think of myself as “a smoker”. Smoking was just something else I did, no different from drinking tea or eating toast and marmalade. But now it’s nearly the very centre of my identity. And that happened only because we came under intensive attack 10 or so years ago..
At school, many years ago, I had friends among my fellow pupils. For we shared the same affliction, of having been sent – usually against our will – to the same school: an experience which wasn’t, as far as I could see, much different from being sent to prison.
The meeting of smokers tomorrow will be, I hope, repeated many times in years to come, as smokers all over the world meet up with other smokers, and meet up with them because they’re smokers, and not for any other reason.
For the way I see it, smokers all over the world – all 1.5 billion or more of them – are all facing the same persecution, whether they’re English or American or German or Russian or Indian or Chinese. Or whether they’re Christian or Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist. Or whether they’re black or white, or men or women. They’re all in the same boat. And because they’re all in the same boat, they’ll be united by that experience.
The net effect of the war on smoking isn’t going to the suppression of tobacco: it’s going to be the creation of a global body of united smokers. It will be an invincible army. And it will be invincible precisely because it has been forged by hammer blows rained down on it. The antismokers will never have anything to match it, because they have never been through the same experience.
The nearest thing to the smoker experience that I’ve ever been through was the 1960s. But, at least in the UK, music-loving, pot-smoking hippies never came under the same intense persecution as smokers face today (it may have been different in the USA).
It’s rather odd that, in both cases, it was the propensity of people to roll a herb in paper, and smoke it, that brought down on their heads the most intense opprobrium. Why? Aren’t there a great many worse things people can do than smoke tobacco/marijuana/opium? Is it really as bad as murder or rape or robbery?
Perhaps it’s a terror of altered states of consciousness (although tobacco hardly effects that at all)? Perhaps it’s a fear of madness? Perhaps it’s the dread that people might start thinking differently? Perhaps it’s fear of addiction? Or of early death? Or of chaos and disorder? Perhaps it’s all these fears rolled into one almighty shrieking fit of the heebie-jeebies.
It doesn’t really matter what motivates the antismokers. All that matters is the effect that their persecutions are going to have, and are already having.
For tomorrow four smokers are going to meet up, and meet up because they’re smokers. It would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. And to many people it probably remains unthinkable: they would never dream of meeting up with anyone just because they liked smoking, or liked drinking, or liked cheeseburgers, or even liked cheese. There’d have to be stronger motivations than that, such as a love of chess, or nuclear physics, or some book or work of art. But smoking? How can people come together over that? It would be like people meeting up because they loved (or loathed) celery.
But these things happen. People can unite together about almost anything. It could well be that all the great religions of the world rest ultimately upon some shared innocuous pastime or favourite colour.
And tomorrow I probably won’t have time to write a new blog post.