The next few days are all set to be dominated by EU elections and Brexit once again.
We were supposed to have Brexited months ago, but it didn’t happen. Our Prime Minister, Theresa May, prevented it from happening. And while she remains Prime Minister, she’ll carry on preventing it from happening. I think she only became Prime Minister in order to prevent it happening. It’s become her sole task in life. She’s a true believer in the EU. She thinks, like many other people, that Britain’s place is inside Europe, not outside it.
I used to be like her. I used to be a believer in the EU. I wanted to belong to it. But now I want to escape from it.
And I want to escape from it for a reason that many people – most people – simply won’t understand.
I want to escape from it because I smoke cigarettes, and the EU is an antismoking political organisation.
I don’t know why the EU is antismoking. I just know that it is. I only found out early in 2010 that the EU had declared war on smokers. And I only found out a few months ago that it had been at war with smokers since at least 1989, 30 years ago. For all I know, it’s been antismoking from its very inception, 70 or more years ago. In fact, for all I know, the EU’s sole purpose is to stamp out smoking in Europe. And that’s why I’ll be voting against the antismoking EU tomorrow.
It seems crazy to me that a political organisation which seeks to unify Europe should have declared war on millions of European smokers. How can you possibly unify a land if you make enemies of half its population? You can’t unify it. You can only divide it. There can be no European union with antismokers in charge of it.
My revolt against the EU is a smoker’s revolt. And I see the current growing revolt against the EU as the revolt of smokers all over Europe against the antismoking EU. For they were always bound to revolt. It was utterly predictable that they would revolt.
But I’m the only person who sees the current revolt against the EU this way, as a smokers’ revolt. Most political pundits see it as a revolt by “nationalist populists”. But I’m not a nationalist. I don’t keep a union jack in my home. I’m English, but not aggressively so. Nor am I a populist. I tend not to espouse popular causes. I tend not to believe what everyone else believes. I’m in revolt against the antismoking EU because I’m a smoker, and for no other reason (although I can easily think of other reasons).
I’m a smoker who was expelled from society – “exiled to the outdoors” – on 1 July 2007. And smokers all over the world have been sharing my experience, usually on different dates. I last visited Spain a few weeks before its existing mild smoking ban was to be intensified on 1 January 2011, and have never wanted to go back. There are hundreds of millions of smokers all over the world who are experiencing the profound exclusion of smoking bans. I’ve been experiencing it myself for the past 12 years.
But most non-smokers simply have no idea at all about the exile taking place around them. Because nobody ever talks about it. And because nobody ever talks about it, they think it isn’t happening. It’s a silent exclusion. Smokers aren’t being arrested, imprisoned, or shot. They’re just being quietly exiled. And also quietly robbed.
But I live the life of one of these exiled smokers. I experience it intensely. I know what it’s like to be expelled from society. And in my small way I fight back. I write about it. I write about it because I wake up thinking about it every morning. I wake up thinking about it every morning like amputees wake up thinking about their missing legs.
And I learn from it. I’m a very slow learner. Even after 12 years of exile, I’m still learning about life in exile.
And I think that, when they find their voice, smokers are going to become a very powerful force in the world. As powerful as blacks and gays and women and all the other people who have been excluded and persecuted for one reason or other.
And they will find their voice. For I think that the current “nationalist populist” uprising in Europe is in large part a revolt of Europe’s smokers against the antismoking EU. Is it entirely accidental that Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini are all smokers? I don’t think it is. I think they’re all people who know what it’s like to be an exile in their own countries. And they’re all angry about it. And that’s why they’re finding it easy to form alliances with each other.
I once stood three yards away from Nigel Farage on the high street of Stony Stratford. We were both holding beers and cigarettes. At the time I could think of nothing to say to him, but if I were to find myself there again, I’d ask him whether, like me, he only turned against the EU when he found out, long before I did, that it was a radically antismoking organisation.
And I suspect that he would take a sip of his beer, and a pull on his cigarette, and reply immediately: