A few days ago, Smoking Lamp drew attention to a call by some French periodical for smoking to be banned outside French cafes as well as inside:
Readers’ views: Why it’s time to ban smoking on cafe terraces in France
It reminded me that, when there were calls for smoking to be banned in outdoor areas in the UK a few years ago, Boris Johnson (who doesn’t smoke) was among the first to say No.
It also reminded me that, back in 2006, and for a few years afterwards, a lot of the MPs who voted for the UK smoking ban were congratulating themselves for the wonderfully progressive measure they had just enacted. And I don’t seem to hear those voices any more.
There was a Budget statement a few days ago. I didn’t watch it, but Junican did:
I watched the second half of the budget speech this afternoon. To be honest, I had forgotten about it until something reminded me. I was in time for his his tobacco announcement.
I was somewhat disappointed. I expected at least a short diatribe about the Evil Tobcoms, but t’was not to be. All there was was a single sentence – something like, “As usual, tobacco duties will rise by inflation plus 2%”. End of.
Perhaps I’ve just been inattentive, but after their initial enthusiasm for antismoking measures, I’ve had the impression that the glitter may have worn off for the political class.
And there are some very good reasons why it should have. There’s no down side to smoking bans for campaigning antismoking organisations like ASH, but there are for politicians who lose the votes of smokers. I’ve often written about how I voted Lib Dem for 25 years, and stopped dead when I found that 95% of the bastards had voted for the smoking ban. I’ll never vote for them again. Ever. And I very much doubt I’m the only ex-Lib Dem voter in Britain who stopped voting for them for that reason. And I suspect that a lot of Lib Dem MPs know that this is what happened. And that rather took the shine off their effusive self-congratulation.
I think that a lot of MPs must feel that they were duped. That they were victims of a confidence trick by antismoking organisations like ASH. And, in fact, they were. Deborah Arnott even bragged about it.
Furthermore, while reading some piece by Tony Blair in which he listed his achievements as Prime Minister, I noticed that the smoking ban was missing from the list. Yet, even more than the Iraq war, I regard the smoking ban as his principal legacy.
Not long ago I carried a photo of David Cameron smoking a cigarette. He never allowed himself to be caught on camera doing that while he was Prime Minister. But now that he’s become a political nobody, the casualty of Brexit, he probably no longer cares. Why should he?
And it’s probably no different in France. Is it entirely accidental that, in Britain one of the most popular politicians in the country is the ostentatiously smoking and drinking Nigel Farage, and in France there’s the ostentatiously smoking Marine Le Pen, and now in Italy the smoking Matteo Salvini? If you want to win the smokers’ vote, get yourself snapped with a cigarette in your mouth, standing in the rain outside some bar.
So I suspect that the political class feel cheated. They were assured that the smoking ban would bring a rush of new customers to pubs and cafes, but it did the opposite, and many of them closed. They were told that most smokers wanted to stop smoking, and that a smoking ban would provide them with the final encouragement to do so. But instead they just carried on smoking. And 10 years later they are all still there, standing in the rain outside. And none of this was supposed to happen. They thought they were going to win votes from grateful smokers, not lose them.
No doubt there are plenty of virulently antismoking politicians around. After all, it was only yesterday that I posted up Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren giving a speech that any antismoker would have applauded. But I suspect that there are a number of politicians who know quite well that all these smoking bans have been a disaster, but daren’t say so.
And so when the antismoking zealots come asking then for yet more bans, because the original bans they’d asked for (and been given) didn’t work, they’re unlikely to be received as unquestioningly as last time.
But having embarked on this disastrous course, the politicians can’t see any alternative but to carry on. They can’t see what else to do. And they don’t want to lose face by admitting that it’s a disaster.
And I think that it’s a far worse disaster than I’ve been suggesting here. I think that the smoking ban has been an absolute catastrophe. It’s created a fractured society, divided between smokers and antismokers, who can no longer even share the same space. These are people who can’t be in the same room with each other, or even on the same cafe terrace. And it’s not going to get better: it’s only going to get worse. For the reviled and excluded smokers are only going to slowly get angrier and angrier at the way they’re being treated. And even if many of them stop smoking, they’re going to be angry that they were forced to stop smoking, and they’re going to be angry for the rest of their lives.
Egged on by the mendacious antismoking fanatics, the politicians have lit a fuse that will eventually result in a colossal explosion.