At about noon on 1 July 2007, a complete stranger came up to me and said, “It’s not a free country any more.”
It struck me as being a profound truth that he uttered that day. And it remains as true today as it was back then. For Britain ceased to be a free country the day that smoking was banned, and it will continue not to be a free country while the smoking ban remains in force.
But that means that one day, when the smoking ban is lifted, or ceases to be enforced, it will become a free country again. And that will be a glorious day. It’ll be one long party. There’ll be bands playing and crowds cheering and people waving flags.
And that day will come, because that day must come. And it must come because Britain must become a free country again.
And after that glorious day, for a long time it will be a great pleasure to be able to sit in a pub and drink a beer and smoke a cigarette, which was once a freedom that was taken for granted, and which seemed almost inconceivable to lose.
But it is only when something is taken away that its loss can be felt, and the joy of its recovery can be experienced. It is only by losing freedom that its real value can be known.
The same applies to everything else. It’s only because we regularly experience darkness at night that we can appreciate the light of day. It is only because of the cold of winter that the summer is hot and sunny. It is only because we can experience pain that we can also experience pleasure. It is only because we begin with ignorance that we can acquire knowledge. We need these contrasts or opposites to experience anything. For otherwise there would be a perpetual sameness, in which nothing ever changed.
So the odd effect of smoking bans will be to make people appreciate freedom much more, and enjoy smoking much more. The best way for anyone to learn the value of anything is to have it – whatever it is – taken away. It’s what anyone who breaks an arm or a leg has brought to their attention: how wonderfully valuable arms and legs are.
To believe that smoking bans will never be repealed is like believing at sunset that the sun will never rise again, or as winter arrives that summer will never return, or in wartime that there will never be peace.
And also smoking bans always entail using the force of law. And whatever has to be forced must always meet with a resistance that seeks to return to a former equilibrium. And so, when smoking bans cease to be enforced, a former equilibrium will be restored. And the glorious day will come when, in some pub somewhere, somebody lights a cigarette, and nobody complains.
And also the war on smoking is an endless war that’s been going on in the Western world for over 500 years, and will no doubt go on for another 500 years. At times smokers advance, and at times they retreat. The present plague of smoking bans around the world will be inevitably followed, in due course, by their repeal.