I’m not too great with dates once we dispensed with the ‘nineteen’ prefix, but I can at least be confident that I attended my grandma’s funeral ten years ago this week, as the after-service pub gathering took place in her neighbourhood boozer just a couple of days following the introduction of the smoking ban, introduced on 1 July 2007. Never a regular frequenter of taverns, this was my first visit to one since the powers-that-be decreed not even ‘smoking rooms’ were permissible in the hostelries of Britain anymore. Had my grandmother been buried a week earlier, I wouldn’t have spent half my time during the post-funeral bash constantly stepping outdoors.
Mind you, as was to become a recurring pattern over the coming decade, allegiances amongst the new social outcasts were forged as I ended up getting into fascinating conversations with distant relatives I’d never met before, conversations I probably wouldn’t have had if I’d stayed indoors with more immediate and familiar family members. At the same time, had the pub in question been able to divide its bars into smoking and non-smoking ones (as had been commonplace prior to the ban), no doubt the same conversations would have been entered into. The pub is now closed, by the way, having gone the way of many in the last ten years.
A friend of mine had returned from a trip to the States in the early 2000s and had told me of attending a jazz club in New York after the Big Apple’s own indoor smoking ban had been brought in, which had come into effect as of 2003. For him, the anticlimax of being in that kind of environment with such a crucial element to the ambience absent seemed an extreme extension of American Political Correctness; little did he know the same would apply in his home country just four years later. At the time, it was unimaginable that a traditional freedom for all over-16 was poised to be curtailed thanks to the relentless pressure of the powerful anti-smoking lobby.
Smoking bans may seem a relatively recent encroachment upon individual civil liberties, though if we overlook James I’s anti-tobacco rant of 1604, we have Nazi Germany to thank for the first attempt in modern history to impose the kind of restrictions on tobacco usage we’d find familiar today. Another plus point to add to Hitler’s blotted copybook along with the autobahns, no doubt. Post-war, many of the countries that sourced this neglected aspect of the Nazi master-plan did so gradually and in line with a growing awareness of the link between cigarettes and cancer. Initially, however, restrictions on public spaces arose in areas in which there was a proven fire risk, though the discouragement of smoking became more widespread through bans on television cigarette advertising. The last ad for cigs was screened on UK TV as far back as 1965, though such a ban was made a mockery of for decades with the continued sponsorship of sporting contests by tobacco companies.
Despite several American states passing laws that segregated smokers and non-smokers in places such as bars and restaurants in the 1970s and 80s, the increasing clout of the anti-tobacco lobby and the spreading cult of health and fitness enabled said lobby to press for more extreme measures. Surprisingly, however, Peru was the first country to impose an outright ban on smoking in all enclosed public places, setting a potent precedent in 1993. Bit by bit, as the 20th century approached its end, greater restrictions on smokers were gathering pace that would snowball come the Millennium.
In 2003, both India and New Zealand outlawed smoking in schools and workplaces, whereas, a little closer to home, Ireland followed suit in 2004; that same year, Bhutan achieved the undeniable ambition of the anti-smoking lobby by banning tobacco altogether, effectively placing it in the same category as all narcotics. As more countries have appeased those who had long complained of ‘passive smoking’ in public areas, however, even that is clearly insufficient legislation for the most fanatical anti-smokers, who probably won’t be content until the blueprint of Bhutan is adopted worldwide.
Even as a committed smoker, I fully understand the objections of those who demanded and have subsequently approved of indoor smoking bans; but the problem seems to be that no restrictions are ever enough for those with the power to impose them. The ridiculous need to persistently punish smokers, as reflected in the most recent ‘innovation’ of hiding cigarettes behind cupboard doors in newsagents and supermarkets (let alone the removal of branding from packets), are characteristic of a conscious programme to marginalise a section of society whose rights are diminishing with each new law. It is ironic that in a day and age in which every minority – whether that minority status arises from race, faith or sexually – is catered for and pandered to, the smoker is fair game for a legislative kicking, the whipping boy of the nanny state.
The way in which a proven healthy alternative such as vaping has been banned from public places in record time proves health concerns are (pardon the inevitable pun) a convenient smokescreen for the anti-smoking lobby, whose prohibitionist agenda has been exposed as a consequence. In 1859, John Stuart-Mill wrote ‘The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others’. Vaping doesn’t harm those who don’t vape; the vapours evaporate in a matter of seconds and don’t linger either as an odour or a health hazard; so why is it bracketed along with actual tobacco as a social evil? I appreciate smoking is, and always will be, a divisive issue; but ten years after a long-held objective of non-smokers was achieved, enough is enough.
© The Editor