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Frank Davis

Banging on about the Smoking Ban

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The Disease of Loneliness
H/T Phil Williams, the Campaign to End Loneliness:

Loneliness is bad for your health. The World Health Organization (WHO) rates loneliness as a higher risk than lifelong smoking.

Interesting comparison. Not one that I've heard before. The report distinguishes loneliness from isolation. The former is a subjective response to an objective state of isolation.

Loneliness is a psychological state, an emotional response to a perceived gap between the amount of personal contact an individual wants and the amount they have. It is clearly linked to, but distinct from, the objective state of social isolation.

Smoking bans destroy communities. I have firsthand experience of this. It's quite simple. After a smoking ban is introduced, pubs and cafes becoming unwelcoming places for most smokers. They no longer feel relaxed and at ease inside them. They can no longer be themselves. So they stop going. Or they go less often. Or they stay for a shorter time.

And this fragments pub and cafe communities. It's not just that smokers are worse off. Everyone is worse off. It's not something that happens overnight. It's a process.

And it doesn't stop there. One thing that I noticed after a while was that I no longer shared the same world as my non-smoking friends. They were still valued members of society. But I had become an outcast. I could see the visible symbol of my prohibition on every street. x - the Universal No. Their world continued unchanged. Mine had become a dark and unwelcoming place. We no longer shared the same world.

Either way, the result is the fragmentation of communities. Everyone is a loser to one degree or other. For some people, this isolation will bring loneliness.

‘When friendship disappears, then there is a space left open to that awful loneliness of the outside world which is like the cold space between the planets. It is an air in which men perish utterly.’ Hilaire Belloc

It always seems to me that the really terrible damage that smoking bans do is to communities. It's not the visible pub closures that really matter. It's the invisible broken communities behind all those closed and boarded-up pubs that matter.

Communities are invisible things. They consist of a network of invisible bonds of friendship between people. And it is in these invisible communities that people find meaning and purpose. Take away community, and you take away everything.

I've yet to come across an antismoking study that addresses the social damage that smoking bans cause. I suspect that this is because health-obsessed antismokers believe that the only things that are real are things that can be seen and touched, and everything else is imaginary. In their view, lung cancer and heart disease are real. You can see them with the naked eye on the dissecting room table. But community and friendship and isolation and loneliness aren't real because they can't be seen and touched. They can't be measured. So they don't exist. Not really. They're imaginary.

For the antismokers, health is above all physical health. And smoking and drinking and fat and sugar and salt are regarded as destructive of objective physical health. The smoke and the beer and the hot dogs and the fat and the sugar and salt are also themselves all visible, as is the disease they are said to cause. And this physical reality is the only thing that matters. Everything else is unimportant or imaginary.

People might hate the smoking bans, but that doesn't matter to the antismoker who knows that they produce an objective improvement in health. Fewer cancers and heart attacks and so on. Measurably improved longevity, etc. By contrast, the exclusion and the loneliness and the hatred and the anger that smoking bans evoke are of no consequence. They are purely imaginary, and therefore insignificant.

But I suspect that it's going to be all that purely subjective and illusory and non-existent exclusion and loneliness and hatred and anger which will come back to haunt the antismokers one day. Because even if these things can't be seen and touched, they are no less real because of it. Just like a man's love for his country, or for his wife, or his children, is no less real because it can't be weighed and measured and sold by the kilogram.

Tobacco Control can't understand why people fight back against smoking bans which make them objectively healthier. TC can't understand that people value things like love and friendship and community, and that's what they're fighting to preserve. They're fighting for those things now just like people have fought for their country, or for their religion, or even for abstract notions like equality or freedom and democracy. All of which are probably regarded by antismokers as equally illusory or imaginary and unreal. Because they can't be excised from a lung, or scraped out of an artery, weighed, photographed, and pickled in brine.

‘What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.’ Kurt Vonnegut

Surfing the medical web this afternoon, I came across the following passage on, of all places, the WHO website, under the heading of the Disease of Loneliness:

The Germans dumped a young Soviet prisoner in my ward late
one night. The ward was full, so I put him in my room as he was moribund and
screaming and I did not want to wake the ward. I examined him. He had obvious
gross bilateral cavitation and a severe pleural rub. I thought the latter was the
cause of the pain and the screaming. I had no morphia, just aspirin, which had
no effect. I felt desperate. I knew very little Russian and there was no one in
the ward who did. I finally instinctively sat down on the bed and took him in
my arms, and the screaming stopped almost at once. He died peacefully in
my arms a few hours later. It was not the pleurisy that caused the screaming
but loneliness. It was a wonderful education about the care of the dying.
- The Foundations of Primary Care: Daring to be Different (9)

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Email Frank Got Yesterday 21 Feb 11 20:22

Hi Frank - I'm not in the age group that you asked to get in touch about the efects of the smoking ban but as a lifelong smoker, I may even have smoked aged 51 as long as a 65 year old.

My mother took up smoking when pregnant with me because she was advised to by her doctor. As you know, they used to do that. I took up smoking myself aged 8 at a time when there was no health education or protection for children.

Of course my mum never encouraged it and she went mad when she found out. I don't know why I started but I just liked the taste and still do. I certainly didn't start because I thought it was cool. One of my earliest memories is of a playground bully boy calling out "cancer stick" and laughing with his mates because he had seen me smoking. I find it odd that the infantile insult is one used by tobacco control today. That;'s why I know they are bullies. I've heard it before.

I haven't been out since the ban - except on holidays abroad where I can smoke - and at Forest or other pro-choice events. I feel more and more reclusive socially as time goes on.

I know the aim is to destroy tobacco culture eventually and they can only do this by getting at the older consumers that are left They do not want us to "infect" others with this culture. They say they care about children but they don't give a damn when those children become adult smokers.

I could have chosen to give up at any time in my lifetime but it does not affect my health and I have enjoyed it. Neither has it ever affected the health of anyone around me. I feel exactly the same about a good cup of Yorkshire tea. I don't want to see tobacco eradicated because it's use is cultural. There is adequate protection for children if it stays within the realm of law but not if its use and sale goes underground.

I have been accepted all of the last 43 years - even allowed to smoke in hospital after the birth of all of my babies - the last born in 1993. I resent this horrible push that there has been at any price to force people like me to stop through bullying, harassment, and control.

I come from a different age and generation where smoking was perceived differently and even celebrated to some extent. I feel I'm being punished because I haven't quit or died yet despite the endless propaganda that I've watched develop over 40 years. I will not apologise for what I do and I am sad that some of your older smokers on the F2C trilogy blog have been forced into a feeling of shame that has led them to say they wished they had quit years ago and they are sorry.

Bearing in mind the stats for lung cancer on lifelong smokers who quit, I feel I am better off smoking moderately.

This is not a country I want to grow old in. I hope I die before then. If the smoking ban extends further, then I'll feel as if my life has been thrown away. Not because I've smoked all of these years but because of the hate that I don't understand and never felt before July 2007.

All the best - thanks for listening,
pat x

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