A few days ago I was listening to the historian Stephen Kotkin talking about the importance of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, author of The Gulag Archipelago, and it prompted me to think that there needs to be a Solzhenitsyn to write about the impact of smoking bans all over the world.
The Gulag Archipelago drew on the experiences of over 200 camp inmates, and an equivalent book might draw on the experiences of a similar number of smokers in America and Europe and elsewhere, men and women, from all walks of life.
I used to think that the most important experience in my life was to have lived through the topsy-turvy 1960s of long hair, pot smoking, and electric music. But now I think that living in the time of the smoking ban has been the more significant experience.
If nothing else, the smoking ban era has lasted longer than the 1960s, the great storm of which began for me in 1968, and had ended by 1973, by which time I had largely managed to escape the madness of the time. So that was a period of about five years. By contrast the era of the smoking ban started for me on 1 July 2007, and has lasted ever since, which is now 12½ years. And it looks set to continue for just as long again.
The 1960s had a big impact on me, and on everyone I knew. But I think that the smoking ban has had a much greater impact, and also a continuing impact. For a start, the smoking ban cost me all my friends (nowhere to meet them any more, basically). Nothing like that happened in the 1960s. In fact quite the opposite: I made lots of friends in the 1960s.
But the smoking ban had lots of other effects on me. For about 25 years I’d been a routine Lib Dem voter, but after the smoking ban I became a UKIP voter, largely because of its smoking and drinking leader, Nigel Farage. Before the smoking ban I was pro-EU, but after it I rapidly became anti-EU, particularly when I discovered how strongly antismoking the EU was. And after the smoking ban I started writing this blog, and if I continue to write it’s because I continue to experience a smoking ban.
The smoking ban has changed the way I think about a lot of things. And it continues to change the way I think. And since it has had such a large and continuing influence on me, I can only suppose that smoking bans have had similar effects on countless other people. And the fact that some people have even collected my writings, and even translated them into other languages, would seem to indicate that their experiences have been similar to mine.
Yet there are a lot of smoking ban experiences that I’ve never had. I never married, so I don’t know what it’s like to be a smoker married to a non-smoker. I also don’t know what it’s like to be a smoker working in an antismoking environment – I used to smoke all the time in my days as a freelance software engineer before the smoking ban. Nor do I have much experience of travel in our antismoking era: if I go anywhere these days it’s in my own car, and I always want to be home by nightfall. And I have no idea what it’s like to be a black smoker, or a gay smoker, or a Muslim smoker, or even a French or Italian or Greek smoker. Other people will have to write about these experiences.
What little I know has led me to think that a lot of what is going on in the world today – Brexit, and the rise of “national populism”, for example – is actually being driven by smoking bans and the response of smokers to those bans. Is it completely accidental that populists like Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini are all smokers? I doubt it. I think that there are millions and millions of people who have been getting more and more sick and tired of the top-down imposition of things like smoking bans and carbon controls – both of which are strangely closely connected to each other – by a global political elite. So I tend to see contemporary politics as the revolt of the world’s smokers against the world’s antismoking political class. It surprises me that nobody else seems to see it this way. But then hardly anyone speaks or writes about smoking bans and their impact on smokers.
So that’s why I think there needs to be a Solzhenitsyn to collect together all the different experiences of smokers, and put them all into a single book, or several books, and tell the world what happened to smokers (and maybe a lot of non-smokers) when smoking bans started appearing all over the world.
It’s not going to be me who writes that book. I’ll just be one of the many voices in it. For I’m not really a writer. I never think of myself as a writer. I’ve never written or published a single book. I’m really just someone who has been writing a diary for most of his life, because I find that writing about things forces me describe them as accurately as I can, far more so than merely thinking about them or even talking about them. So this blog of mine is really just a sort of diary of mine that I publish every day. It has a hand-written companion which overlaps it, but also includes topics like shopping trips and the daily weather. I’m a rather compulsive writer, and it’s become as effortless as breathing (or perhaps as effortless as breathing once used to be). For other people it seems to be harder: I’m still waiting, months later, for a promised description of what life is like for fat people in our present, intolerant, bullying world (I was told it was far worse than for smokers).
I think that such a book would have a great impact. I think it would make many non-smokers realise at last just what smoking bans have been doing to millions of people, in the same way that Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago shone light on what was happening in Soviet labour camps. Such a book might even serve to bring about the repeal of smoking bans, and the destruction of Tobacco Control, as well as the reform of the World Health Organisation and the medical profession and much else beside.