It seems to be a feature of blogging that most days there’s a steady stream of readers, and then one day there’s a flood of them. It’s the same with rivers: my banner image shows the river Severn in flood.
Most days I get about 500 page views a day, and yesterday I got 10,530 page views, mostly of The Inconsiderate Jeremy Vine, and mostly from the UK. In the past I’ve had similar figures from time to time for pages like The Black Lung Lie.
This time, however, the flood seems to have been a consequence of a storm that broke out on Twitter when the BBC’s Jeremy Vine asked whether smoking should be banned in pub gardens, and got 50% Yes and 50% No response.
50 – 50 is maximum contention. If he’d got a 90 – 10 or 10 – 90 response it would have shown that the matter was uncontentious, and most people were agreed about it in one way or other.
Another example of near-maximum contention was the 52 – 48 Brexit vote. And I’d guess that pro- and anti-Trump feelings in the USA are at similar levels.
I can believe that pub garden smoking bans are highly contentious, if only because, in my personal experience, smoking bans have been the single most divisive issue in my life. The UK smoking ban tore apart my social life, because unfortunately many of my friends turned out to be antismokers.
So, if my experience is anything to go by, I think Jeremy Vine was disturbing a hornet’s nest with his tweet.
I wonder if it was deliberate? If you want to find out what the public mood is like about something, wouldn’t it be a good idea to have some public figure like Jeremy Vine post some contentious tweet, with an appended poll for people vote on? Within a day or two you’d have an answer. And, given the strength of the response, you’d also get an idea of how strongly people felt about it.
If so, it would seem that they found out that pub garden smoking bans are highly contentious, with a lot of people on one side, and equally as many on the other side.
It might also explain why there’s a strange silence about smoking bans: it’s precisely because they’re so highly contentious. It’s why Basil Fawlty was telling people “Don’t mention the war,” when a party of Germans visited his hotel. The war was in itself, of course, a nasty case of extreme contention, so it was something that couldn’t be mentioned, lest bad feelings get stirred up again.
So the public silence surrounding smoking bans may simply reflect the fact that smoking bans are so extremely divisive. They are so extremely divisive that hardly anybody dares to talk about them.
And smoking bans are extremely divisive because they result in large numbers of smokers being quite literally exiled to the outdoors. What could be more divisive than that? But will any of them talk about it? Of course they won’t. Their feelings run too deep. And they may run too deep to be expressible in words.
Smoking bans are so contentious that, at least in my own case, that contention feeds into apparently unrelated matters. For example, I voted for Brexit largely because the EU proved to have its own antismoking agenda, and not because of any of the other reasons that are usually cited. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there are many other smokers in Europe who feel the exact same way as I do about the EU. If true, it may well be that smoking bans are what are really tearing the EU apart.
In fact, I’ve occasionally wondered whether someone like Nigel Farage feels the exact same way that I do about smoking bans and the EU. After all, he’s been a strong contender against outdoor smoking bans, as I found out at Stony Stratford. But if he hardly ever talks about it, it’s because even he lacks the words with which to express his feelings.
I also wonder whether the current near-civil war in the USA has its roots in the same thing. Maybe it’s got nothing to do with Donald Trump, and everything to do with smoking bans in states and cities? But nobody will talk about those bans, so they instead talk about Donald Trump, who has become a lightning conductor.
If smoking bans are as deeply divisive as I’m suggesting, then we will be seeing deep divisions in nearly every country in the world, because nearly all of them have got smoking bans these days, working their poisonous effect on hitherto harmonious societies.