I thought I’d continue today along yesterday’s thread, exploring the expulsion of smokers from society, and some of the consequences that seem to have naturally flowed from this.
I still vividly remember the day – 1 July 2007 – when we smokers were expelled from all the pubs and cafes and clubs in Britain, and exiled to the outdoors. It might have seemed at the time like a singular, one-off event, but it was actually the beginning of a process of expulsion, not just from pubs and cafes, but from the whole of society.
On that first day, the pubs in Devon (where I was living at the time) were quite crowded. I suppose everyone wanted to see what would happen. But after that day, they emptied. I used to have a number of acquaintances with whom I swapped conversation and drinks, or with whom I played pool. And they all vanished, and I never saw them again. An entire circle of acquaintances dissolved away in the space of two or three weeks.
It took a lot longer to lose the wide circle of friends in Britain that I’d known before the ban. But as one by one they started banning smoking in their own homes, and I became as unwelcome there as I was in pubs and cafes, I grew steadily more distant from them. And furthermore, ours had ceased to be a shared experience of life: I was one of the excluded, and they were not. Which is not much different from me being black, and they being white.
But this was a process that took place over time. It didn’t happen suddenly. It took years.
But there were other gradual changes as well. Prior to the smoking ban, I voted Liberal Democrat, and I saw myself as liberal and democratic. And I tended to want everybody – blacks, gays, women, Muslims, etc. – to all be included. But once I myself had joined the ranks of the excluded, I ceased to feel quite the same about it. I began to resent the fact that these social groups were being included in society, while I was being excluded. Why should an excluded and reviled smoker like me be glad that a black/gay/handicapped/Muslim like you is being included? There is no reason at all why I should feel pleased.
And also I had a deep nostalgia for the way thing used to be, when smokers like me were welcome. I longed for the vanished, congenial, smoky pubs of yesteryear. And I longed for much else beside that had now been swept away.
In short I stopped being a progressive Liberal Democrat, and started being a conservative. From initially being a bit Left wing, I became steadily more Right wing. I found myself agreeing with Right wing people who I never used to agree with before. And very often I found them to not be Right Wing enough. It’s been said that “A conservative is a liberal who has been mugged,” and in my case this was exactly correct: we smokers had been mugged, and left bloodied and penniless on the street.
I think a shift in political orientation of this sort was actually something that was an inevitable consequence of the exclusion of smokers, and if the whole of Europe and America has been becoming steadily more conservative in recent years, it seems to me that all one need do is point to the many millions of excluded smokers in all these countries, and say: “Here are your new conservatives.” These aren’t people who had a sudden awakening one day: these are people who have just been enduring exclusion and demonisation in countless small ways for year after year after year, and getting more and more tired of it, and starting to vote for politicians like Nigel Farage, or Marine Le Pen, or Matteo Salvini, all of whom are smokers, and thus One Of Us.
I think that if we also seem to be in a permanent economic slump, with interest rates at rock bottom, it may well be for a very closely related reason: the excluded smokers have stopped spending. I was remarking yesterday that I never go anywhere any more, never catch any trains or buses or planes, never stay in any hotels, never visit any cinemas or art galleries or museums, because I am no longer welcome in any of these places. So why should I want to frequent them? It’s not just that smokers no longer spend freely on beer and cigarettes and food like they once used to, they don’t spend on anything else much either.
The oddest thing about all this is that: nobody can see what’s happening. This doesn’t just apply to the progressive Left: it applies equally to the conservative Right. All over the world, hundreds of millions of smokers are being expelled from society, and nobody notices it happening. There’s complete, dead silence. There’s not a peep about it on any radio or TV channel, nor any mention of it in newspapers, or in parliaments, or churches, or community associations. Can’t they see? Haven’t they got eyes in their heads?
One possible explanation for this is that smoking bans are not regarded as political measures, but as health measures. So if you mention smoking bans to anyone in any position of authority, they will immediately drop it into the medical in-tray. Whereas if you mention blacks or gays or women or muslims, they’ll drop that into the political in-tray. Smoking is not treated as a political matter at all, but as a medical matter, and in fact as a medical emergency, during which normal rules of care and consideration are suspended, and ambulances may drive through red lights and on the wrong side of the road. Once something has become an urgent matter of Saving Lives, it ceases to be an ordinary political matter up for discussion, and there can be no debate about it whatsoever.
And so there isn’t any debate.