No smoking

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It’s such an historic occasion that I can’t let it pass quietly…

Scotland is now, legally, a “non-smoking in enclosed areas” country. Uproar and nonsense have been spewed forth on this topic for many months now, and loathed as I am to add to it I feel compelled to put forth a non-smokers view.

First let me explain why I don’t smoke, in fact I’ve only tried it twice and both times I was young enough and drunk enough to think I was impressing my peers, and both times the experience left me with a disgusting taste in my mouth and sick feeling in my stomach. To this day I can’t fathom the appeal (ahh but it’s an addiction now, isn’t it).

My Grandpa used to smoke. I’ll be honest and admit that I’m not entirely sure it was solely to blame for his death but I can easily state that watching someone you love deteriorate through several strokes is a horrible and prolonged experience. To all extents and purposes the last year or two of his life were just that, a long slow progression towards his death. It was, and is, horrible.

I wouldn’t put anyone through that, having seen the toll it takes on a family, and I’ll happily chalk that up as one selfish strike against those of you who smoke. Of course that’s overly harsh to people of my Grandpa’s generation as the negative impact of smoking was well-known, but for those of you reading this now there is no excuse. You know it’s bad for you.

So the question has to be, and I’ve asked most of the smokers I know, if you KNOW it’s bad for you why do you keep doing it? It’s an easy question to ask, of course, but a far harder one to answer. Nicotine is an addictive substance but there are many many people who have successfully stopped smoking so it must be possible. Is it purely a matter of want and will? Or do you need a push?

Obviously the main focus of the smoking ban has the impact on pubs. Several ‘commentators’ have voiced their opinions against the ban, accusing it of removing their right to socialise, and an infringement of civil rights. Which is, of course, complete and utter tosh. It’s a bit like an alcoholic saying that pubs shouldn’t serve alcohol lest they have temptation placed in their path and anyway, as others have said, blowing smoke in all over the place is hardly a ‘social’ act, is it?

And what of class? Dare I bring that into this argument? Is it possible that it plays a role in the position of smoking in society? Well it would be foolish to say that it doesn’t as the evidence is quite to the contrary. The trendy winebars and coffee houses will suffer dips in custom I’m sure but it’s the out of town pubs, where the out of work or retired spend their day supping pints in a haze that will feel the brunt in the longer term (presuming the policing of the ban isn’t seen as an after-thought, a possible side-effect of the promised, initial, softly-softly approach). Or am I stereotyping? And does it matter anyway? It’s not about class after all, as the Scottish Executive keeps telling us, it’s about getting people to stop smoking.

Next up the cry of human rights and the so-called denial of them in the form of ‘basic’, and occasionally ‘god given’, form (whatever that means, I’m not sure God drew up a manifesto of rights when he created man, but I guess he hoped we wouldn’t have fucked things up quite as spectacularly as we seem to be doing). Apparently if someone chooses an activity, and that activity has cause to influence (or waft over) others then it’s the person who chose the activity that gets to make any decisions about it. Of course. How silly of me.

In defence of smokers, I would warrant that many don’t even realise that they have been forcing people to make decisions for a long time now. For example, if I’m sitting in a pub, and the table next to me is suddenly occupied by a couple of smokers I’ll usually CHOOSE to move. After all, I CHOSE to enter that pub, and CHOSE to sit down at that table. Right? Ohhh I’ve just realised that last sentence should’ve been written in the past tense… such subtle joys.

To say the smoking ban forces people to be anti-social may be, in part, true. I can sympathise to an extent with smokers as a lot of them are considerate, smoke only in designated areas and are polite enough to at least pretend they are embarassed when their residue leaves you choking over your dinner (although why they waft their hands about in front of themselves I’ll never understand… it’s the smoke under MY nose that is the problem.. it’s a nice gesture though). To force people outside regardless of the weather seems a little harsh. After all they CHOSE to enter that pub, and they CHOOSE to smoke… ohhh hang on…

And therein lies the flaw in the argument. The smoking ban does not force anyone to CHOOSE to be anti-social. It forces you to CHOOSE to smoke or not. Is THAT a violation of civil rights, an insult to free choice and a threat to democracy? In direct context, yes, but you need to delve a little deeper.

To give an example: I choose to watch my speed when I pass a school for I am aware that my CHOICE may have an impact (pun unintended) on others. Some smokers seem to think that their choice to smoke is theirs alone, a solitary decision, for no-one but them to make.

And if they want it that way then they have made another choice. The choice to turn their back on society, on community, and go it alone. EVERY choice we make has an impact, no matter how indirectly, on others. Everyone has to make those choices, every single day; I choose not to smoke. I choose to go to the pub. Of those two choices, none have any impact on anyone else (except perhaps the pub itself…). Yet if a smoker chooses to go to the pub (and chooses to light up), their choice has a direct impact on everyone else.

Yes, the smoking ban is aimed at getting people to stop smoking. Yes, stopping smoking may be hard. But what I still can’t fathom is why there is such uproar about this. I really, sincerely, hope it’s just the press generating news. Otherwise we have a bigger problem on our hands, namely that the people who smoke aren’t even smart enough to see that the ban is designed to help them live longer.

It may be a generation or two before the real benefits of the smoking ban are felt, but for once it’s good to see politicians taking a bold stand. I can’t wait until Friday night rolls around.