July 17th, 2010

frank_davis4

This ban WILL be lifted

I'm getting sick of this.

When the smoking ban came into force in July 2007, I thought it would cost Labour the next election. And then, a new Tory government would either amend or repeal the ban, and some sort of semblance of normality would be restored. I thought I'd just have to wait a couple of years or so for this to happen.

I got the first part right. I'm sure that plenty of working class smokers deserted the Labour party after the smoking ban, and that it was a major contributor to them losing the election. Mind you, there were plenty of other reasons too.

But I don't seem to have got the second part right. Because the new coalition government has announced that they aren't going to review the ban after 3 years as the previous government had said it would. And then, when amending or repealing the smoking ban was about the most popular suggestion on the Your Freedom online faux-consultation, Nick Clegg has promptly declared that it was about as likely that the smoking ban will be amended as that capital punishment will be re-introduced. So there's been no change at all with the change of government.

I don't know what their thinking is. They haven't said. They never talk about it. I suppose that the comparison with capital punishment is meant to show that, in their minds, the smoking ban is a piece of landmark legislation, ushering in a new era. A bit like legalising homosexuality and abortion, or emancipating slaves. And the Government (and it matters not one jot now whether it's a Tory or Labour government) has decided that it will no more resile from this 'progressive' change in British culture than it did in respect of these earlier changes.

I can see what their thinking might be along these lines. I'd like to explain why the smoking ban is not like any of these.

In the case of capital punishment, not very many people suffered the death penalty. In Britain I can't remember what the figures were, but it was something like one person a year who got hanged. So the ending of capital punishment only directly affected one person per year. It had no effect on the remaining 60 million inhabitants of this country. The end of capital punishment improved the lot of a few prisoners, and didn't make anyone else's life any worse.

In the case of legalising homosexuality, I wonder how many people that affected. How many people were being prosecuted for buggery before legalisation? Not many. So once again it was a piece of legislation that had little effect on most ordinary people's lives. It improved life for the homosexual community, and it didn't make anyone else's life any worse.

But the smoking ban isn't like either of these. Quite the opposite. Let's admit that it improved life for those pubgoers who didn't like the smell of tobacco smoke. Lots of them keep saying so, after all. But at the same time it made life much worse for millions of smokers who used to enjoy having a pint and a cigarette, and for whom the cigarette was as essential as the pint for their enjoyment. I bet that, for a great many non-smokers, being able to buy a pint of beer in a pub is something that they'd consider essential for their enjoyment of pubs - and if beer was banned in pubs, they would no more like going to pubs than smokers did after smoking was banned.

The result is that millions of smokers have stopped going to pubs, except on sunny days when they can sit outside. And that has meant the disintegration of pub communities, and the fracturing of millions of bonds of friendship, and the bankruptcy of thousands of pubs.

The smoking ban has made life slightly better for a few non-smokers. And it has made life far, far worse for millions of smokers. I say 'a few' non-smokers because I hardly knew any non-smokers prior to the smoking ban who complained about smoking in pubs. Prior to the smoking ban, I didn't know anybody who wanted smoking banned in pubs. Nobody in the pubs wanted a ban: they were just resigned to it, as something they could do nothing about.

The end of capital punishment, and the legalisation of homosexuality were both pieces of legislation which improved the lot of a minority of condemned prisoners and homosexuals, and didn't make anyone else's life any worse. The smoking ban slightly improved the lot of a few non-smokers, and made the life of millions of smokers far, far worse. The end of capital punishment and the legalisation of homosexuality signalled the end of the excessive and unnecessary persecution of a small minority of people. But the smoking ban marked the beginning of the persecution of a large and entirely entirely new social minority. The smoking ban has actually created an entire new subclass of stigmatised and excluded and disapproved persons: smokers. In what way is that any sort of progress? In what way is that remotely comparable to the end of the death penalty, or the legalisation of homosexuality and abortion, or even the emancipation of slaves. All those pieces of legislation removed stigma. The smoking ban creates stigma, and on an enormous scale.

Equally, those pieces of legislation only changed the institutional culture of Britain, not its popular culture. The smoking ban is an attempt to change the popular culture of Britain. It would be the same if attempts were made to stop people drinking, and eating fast food (although attempts are being made to do this too), or listening to pop music, or watching movies, or wearing jeans, or whatever else they like to do.

I don't actually think it's possible for any government to change the popular culture of a country. That's something the people themselves do gradually over time. After all, there wasn't a cultural revolution in Britain in the 60s because Harold MacMillan inaugurated one. Women didn't start wearing mini-skirts because the Minister for Women's Affairs launched the mini-skirt. Nor did the Ministry of Health tell people to start smoking cannabis. All these things happened despite the government, rather than because of it. It is utterly hubristic of any government to suppose that it can change the popular culture of any society. It's doomed to failure from the outset.

All these are reasons why the smoking ban WILL be lifted. If antismoking senior doctors say that it will be over their dead bodies that the ban will be repealed, then so be it. I'm quite happy to see the likes of Sir Liam Donaldson and Sir Charles George strung up on lamp posts, if that's what it takes. I'd do it myself. And I'd have 10,000 assistants.

The only reason we have a smoking ban is because senior doctors (like the two just mentioned) demanded it. They demanded it not because they thought that passive smoking costs lives (nobody believes that, not even the antismokers), but because they wanted to 'help' smokers give up smoking by allowing fewer and fewer places where they could smoke. And it isn't working. The numbers of smokers is instead increasing. And more and more young people are taking up the habit. And, as the tax on tobacco has ratcheted up year on year, a thriving black market in tobacco has arisen. So much for 'help'.

Smokers aren't going to go away. And they're not going to be any more happy if the ban is still in place in one year or 5 years or 10 years. They're never going to 'get used' to the smoking ban. They're never going to shrug their shoulders and give in. They're just going to get more and more angry, and more and more determined to see the back of this vile law. And they're going to become more and more active, and come up with more and more new ways to advance their cause. And as they work to reclaim their lost rights, and their blackened good name, smokers are going to demand a lot more than just the repeal of the smoking ban.

They're going to demand - and are demanding already - that Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) be closed down. It's a fake charity that only lives on taxpayers' (i.e. smokers') money anyway. It's an obscenity that smokers' money is being used to fund the principal organ of their persecution. For that is all ASH does. It acts to increase and extend the persecution of smokers in every possible way. And it advances its cause by telling lies. More or less everything that comes out of ASH is a lie.

That's the first demand. But there are plenty more like it that will follow in its wake as smokers get stronger and angrier and ever more determined.

There are 12-15 million smokers in Britain (not counting the 10 million or so 'non-smokers' who still cadge the occasional cigarette off them). That's an awful lot of enemies to have made. They could, if they wanted, bring the country to a halt tomorrow. Even if they rolled over in their sleep, they could cause a stock market crash. There are any number of ways that they could cause enormous amounts of difficulty. And all they want is a few pubs where they can go and have a drink and a smoke and a laugh with their friends like they used to.

One day the government is going to bitterly regret that it ever brought in the smoking ban in the first place. Too late they will realise that it was a futile piece of legislation that was always doomed to failure (for the reasons I've just given). Too late they'll recognise that governments can't change popular culture. Too late because by then the damage will be done, and British society will have become divided into smokers and non-smokers, just like Britain once became divided into rival Catholics and Protestants. For in the future there will be smoking pubs and non-smoking pubs, just like there are Catholic churches and Protestant chapels. There is no other way now.

And that particular division in society was also the consequence of a reforming government's zeal, 500 years ago, as zealous Protestants made Catholic rites illegal, and brought in Protestant rites by law. Yet the Catholics never went away.

And smokers won't be going away now either.