Why was it that, 50 years after voting to join the European Economic Community (EEC), the British voted to leave it (and decisively voted twice)? One obvious answer is that the EEC had metamorphosed into the EU – a quite different beast – during those 50 years, and had ceased to be what the British thought they had joined.
So why was it that, 30 years after the EEC turned into the EU, the British voted to leave it? Why didn’t they demand to leave immediately? Why did they wait 30 years? The answer is probably that the loss of sovereignty over those 30 years had been a slow, cumulative process, and it was this accumulated loss which gradually turned the British against the EU.
A parallel question might be asked of the USA: Why was it that it took 100 years after the emancipation of slaves for there to emerge a powerful social movement against racial discrimination? Why did it take 100 years for Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King to step forward? The answer, most likely, was that although the emancipation of slaves was an enormous change, there continued to be considerable discrimination against coloured people, and this continuing discrimination slowly added up. It just took 100 years for it to boil over. Some things take a very long time to work their way through.
These days discrimination is directed against new targets. Instead of No Blacks or No Jews, there are No Smoking signs. The UK smoking ban of 1 July 2007 was not a singular event: it was the beginning of a process of gradual exclusion of smokers from all walks of life. Or rather it was the culmination of a process that had begun 30 or 40 years before. The war on smoking is a war that has been raging for a very long time. It’s been 500 years since tobacco was introduced into Western society, and there’s been continual resistance to it throughout that time.
And now smokers are experiencing what blacks and women and gays and Jews have experienced for a long time. Smokers are finding out what it’s like to be discriminated against, and continually and unremittingly discriminated against. It’s a new discrimination: smokers are now daily insulted by No Smoking signs in ways they never were a decade or two ago.
The result, I suggest, will be an inevitable smokers’ revolt, just like the Brexit revolt and the US Civil Rights revolt. Because the cumulative insult of smoking bans will gradually add up into one huge and unendurable insult. But, just like Brexit, it will take many years before it all finally boils over.
How long? 50 years? 100 years? There are reasons for supposing that it may well be a lot less than that. One of these is that smoking bans have appeared almost everywhere in the world at the same time, so that almost every smoker in the world is now experiencing discriminatory smoking bans. The speed and scope of smoking bans assures the speed and scope of the consequent smoker revolt. When smokers revolt, it will be a global revolt. And it will also be a sudden revolt. And, just like Brexit, nobody will see it coming.
Small insults add up slowly. Large insults add up quickly. And smokers are now being mightily insulted all over the world.
When the revolt comes, it will very likely be primarily a revolt against the medical profession in the World Health Organisation (WHO), because the war on smoking has been primarily waged on health grounds by numerous activist doctors (e.g. Richard Doll. George Godber, to name just two from the UK). The medical profession is likely to experience a collapse in public approval in ways that will seem unthinkable to doctors who regard their good name almost as a birthright. But they should not be surprised if, having conducted a long war on smokers, they find smokers conducting a long war on the medical profession. Nor should they be surprised if they find that smokers will have allies among drinkers and fat people against whom they have also been conducting long wars.
At present it is common for conservatives to be regularly accused of “racism, sexism, homophobia” and various other things. But these jibes refer back to a past era. In the future the charge will be that they are “sizist, antismoking prohibitionists” or something to that effect. Whereas once people wrote books like “Black Like Me“, they’ll now write books like “Fat Like Me” (In this respect I’ve been hoping to publish an essay by someone who has experienced what it’s like to be fat in our AntiFat Era, but it’s yet to be forthcoming. If there are any readers who feel able to write about this, I would be happy to publish some of their accounts).
I read yesterday complaints about “nine years of hurt” from a Conservative UK government. But in the UK smokers have endured over twelve years of hurt, and soon that will be fifteen years, and then twenty years. That’s a lot of hurt, slowly piling up, And the exact same thing is happening everywhere else in the world. It doesn’t take a genius to foresee that an explosion is coming, somewhere down the track.
My principal assertion is this: Whenever some social minority is subjected to continual exclusion and discrimination, the small insults slowly add up. They are not forgotten. And it’s because they are not forgotten that they must eventually find expression, 20 years, 50 years, and even 100 years later.