‘What, dost thou think because thou art virtuous there should be no more cakes and ale?’Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
Two things have left me flabbergasted this century. The first was the invasion of the diminishing ‘threat’ that was Iraq. The second, right now, is this ban on smoking announced by the UK government last year, and due to come in force this July. As of then, you will not be able to smoke in any bar, public place, or even private club in England.
I am so agitated, so dispirited about this thing, this mean-spirited, philosophically-stinky piece of social engineering, this outrageous step for a ‘free’ society, I can barely keep it together to write. I’ve started and stopped this enough times already. So saddened too by the fact that this piss-poor government will get away with it – there is enough social approval, and, vitally, middle-class social approval, for this move. I predict a non-riot. Confirmed that today when I quizzed a group of university creative writing students about it – couldn’t believe – well, I could – the amount of support for it, and seeming indifference to/ ignorance of its wider implications If the more open-minded of the younger generation can’t see it, hunh, the game is truly up.
I tell you, this is a dealbreaker, a country-leaver. But where to, the growing problem, where to? Fuck me, the twenty-first century.
I blame the Protestants, number one. I detect their dark hand all over this. Four centuries ago we kicked out the most pleasure-hating section of that pleasure-doubting crew, the Puritans, packed them off to found (pretty much) white northern America, where they banned drums and music-making among their slaves, then liquor, for everybody, and currently ensure that Americans get a mere two weeks holiday a year. But all the while, another strain of them was growing in England – the Puritan-influenced Methodists. They were partly behind the founding of the British Labour party in the late nineteenth century, and the Temperance and missionary movements of those years. These cats liked nothing better than going to visit their ‘lowers’ – be it the British working-classes or the darker races, and saying: ‘You shouldn’t be believing/ drinking that, you’ve got to believe / drink this…’. I know – my Mum’s family were converted Methodists. Both Blair and Bush big Protestants. Urgh! – give me a Catholic, at least.
Let no one doubt that this law is a piece of arrant moral condescension. The powers have their notion of what a ‘good’, well-lived life is, and they have decided to force their notion on other people by punishing those who don’t agree with them, thus trampling on a principle that has been enshrined in liberal societies since JS Mill’s time: namely, that adults are allowed to risk harm to themselves should they consent to it (hence contact sport etc) It would have been perfectly possible, of course for the powers to allow a compromise system that was largely non-smoking, but where certain bars or sections that catered to the still-sizeable minority that puff was permitted. You would have found plenty of bar staff – smokers and non-carers – happy to work there, perhaps for a little extra, and plenty of their employers delighted to pay that extra. We’ve sent men to the moon, devised the internet, we know about ventilation, I think it would have been possible, no? The fact that they haven’t allowed this tells you all you need to know about the self-righteousness, the intolerance, and the lack of empathy of these people.
Most folk do jobs that they don’t want to do, that isn’t their ‘dream’, for fifty years; they pay their taxes, they don’t have much money, then they die. If some of these want to unwind after a dreamless day, in a bar, with a drink and a smoke, amongst consenting adults, away from home where the stress often is, or the debts are, or the potentially passively-affected children, God forbid, if some of these want to unwind in their long-legitimate way, then allow it, for God’s sake, allow it. What is your problem? Is there some new law that’s come in that says that everyone has to live every last minute of life that they possibly can? (There probably is, actually. I am reliably informed that this government has brought in 3,000 new offences into the statute book. Not including this new law that’s coming whereby children with some family history of criminal behaviour can have some ‘preemptive’ order slapped on them aged 11. Soon, you’re gonna be banned before you’ve even begun…It just seems that all we’re allowed to do these days is to buy credit and buy houses. Anyone with some other aspiration is made to feel like a c**t.)
Look, most people do want to live as long as possible. So the fact that they’re prepared to jeapordize the fulfilment of that wish long after the age of cool by persisting in this expensive, dangerous habit tells you they are deriving some serious benefits from it. People are’nt stupid. In my case – yes I do smoke, mildly, but I promise you my line on this matter wouldn’t deviate whether I did or not – I use smoking mainly as an aid in my work, as do many in adrenalin-related activities. At certain points in my writing day, smoking seems to help my thinking. There are, as Sherlock Holmes once noted, three-pipe problems.. Clearly something psychological plus, no doubt, oral going on too, but, hey, it’s worked for me, better than gum or lollipops, for twenty-five years. I have to weigh up the (mathematically not-high) probability of cancer or heart disease down the road against the certainty of my present work – the rhythm and way of it – being affected should I quit. It’s a no-brainer. As part of that rhythm, I sometimes feel the need to change my location, go for a walk, chew over some thoughts, and ‘exit’ said thoughts in a quiet, warm-enough cafe or bar, over a smoke. But now part of that innocuous little range of options is denied me, anywhere.
Just because you can’t X-Ray stress-relief or work benefits or pleasure like you can a malignant lung doesn’t make them any less true. But at one stroke this law has killed off the concept of both a a good work-out and a good night out – be it a casino, a cognac, and a fat Cuban between the lips – my preferred, or whatever’s your fancy – for millions of people. Cheers.
Can people not see how excessive this seems, when it could have been worked out?
Okay, enough with the ugly part of this post. No bother even going into the stack of legal philosophers who would point to you why this is an ill law (and Blair read Law at the same place I did. He should know), or how this is yet another coup for the New Health (see posts passim), and has a lot to do with this growing culture of offence, and entitlement (folk feeling that their sense of offence should be the motor, the source from which everything else should flow). Let me finish with this final jab: have you noticed just how many people there are who never had the balls to live their own dream – went for the job in accountancy, and the mortgage and the security – but are still insistent that everyone else must live every last minute that they possibly can? As someone once said, life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but rather by the moments that take your breath away.
So, what to do? Number one, we have to do what we can to ensure that it all stops here. No further (the powers are clearly already preparing the way to outlaw smoking outright within a generation). Two, we must lobby, we must agitate, we must vote with the only language they care for, our wallets, and boycott these new bar rules ( an informed friend of mine, recently returned from business in new, smoke-free Ireland, tells me that Guinness are already bemoaning their losses). Most crucially, we must organise – indeed a bunch of us already are. Details currently sketchy, but anyone like-minded is urged to get in touch. We are ruling nothing out (well, some things, obviously). For starters, I’m making a general request for anyone with any smoking-related trivia – great screen smoking moments, forty-a-day footballers – to send me the info. It has been mooted that, in these role model-minded times – unh!, don’t get me started on that bull – we set up a ‘Smoking Awards that, in time, may rival, the Oscars or Baftas in profile and prestige. I’ll kick things off with a few nominations: click here for the Smoking Awards.