Sunday was a black day for liberty in England. In my view it is one of the worst days for human rights in England in my living memory. Today there comes into force a total ban on all smoking indoors in public places, in particular the work place and all restaurants bars and clubs, imposed by our fascist ban-everything nanny government. And typically of course where is the one public place exempted? The bars in the Houses of Parliament. Well there’s a surprise….
Many of us who are non-smokers will say the ban is great, hooray, now we can walk into pubs and restaurants and all kinds of other places not have to smell foul smoke. Fine. But there are 13 million smokers in England. Not an insignificant amount of people who have suddenly been turned into pariahs overnight, and will have to suffer the indignity of going outside into our vile climate to enjoy a cigarette, or a cigar or a pipe.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that restaurants should be smoke free. People who don’t smoke should be able to enjoy a meal in a restaurant without having to breathe in the smoke of other diners. What is totally wrong is the utter intolerance being shown to smokers. No consideration for these 13 million people other than patronizing comments from politicians that now they can give up. Well, a lot of them don’t want to give up, thank you.
No distinction is made between the person who mainlines sixty fags a day and the person who smokes one a day, or one cigar a week, perhaps after dinner with a fine cognac. Will they be banning alcohol next, regardless of whether you enjoy one glass of wine a day or two bottles of meths? My late mother enjoyed the occasional cigarette after dinner — and smoked a total of about ten cigarettes a year. And there are plenty of light smokers like her, for whom a few cigarettes a week cannot possibly harm any more than a walk down a city street ingesting traffic fumes.
What is completely wrong is that people cannot even smoke now in private clubs. You cannot have a cigar club. How ridiculous is that? Even in health-conscious New York and Los Angeles there are cigar bars where a smoker can go, drink, smoke, have a fine meal — in short, a proper evening out. And the reason private clubs have not been exempted? Because the government thought that would be unfair to pubs!
This legislation is shameful, ill-thought out, hysterical knee-jerk reaction. Weak Tony Blair allowed himself first to be bullied into the Iraq war by Bush, and then bulled into this legislation by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr Liam Donaldson, who threw a tantrum, threatening to resign if there was anything less than a total ban.
And just what is Dr Liam Donaldson’s track record like? He tells us that passive smoking kills millions of people, despite there being no evidence to support this and plenty to the contrary. But then we are talking about a man on a mission. They say that truth is the first casualty of war, and I suspect that facts are the first casualty of the zealot. In 2005 this man predicted that 50,000 Britons would die from the bird flu epidemic and that we could be looking at a possible death toll of 750,000 in the UK. Two years on the total deaths from avian flu, worldwide, have been 191. Not a single on in the UK.
One particularly ludicrous aspect of this legislation is the ban on smoking in the work place. I have received two expensive packs (yes, not just one, but two!) of signs I must display in my workplace. So my study is my workplace. If I wanted to smoke in my study does that mean I could not? So no writer in the UK can smoke at his or her desk unless they move it outside? I’m showing a picture of myself in my workplace. I am holding a cigar.
PJ with cigar in his office
Note: Just in case any nasty little government inspector is lurking out there in cyberspace, observe that my cigar is not lit. But of course it might be lit moments after the photo was taken. And then again it might not. Just like the paradox of Schrodinger’s Cat, (which is a theoretical cat put in a box, in a scientific experiment with a bottle of hydrochloric acid and a hammer that would break the glass if radioactive decay allowed it to swing. But the way the experiment is set up, radioactive decay may or may not happen. It was Schrodinder’s attempt at showing the incompleteness of early quantum mechanics, by demonstrating that until the box was opened and the result known, the cat was both alive and dead at the same time.)
Today in modern Germany, a country I truly love, where I spend a great deal of time travelling on book promotion, I find genuine freedom everywhere. There are still plenty of stretches of autobahn where there are no speed limits and a fast car can be enjoyed. Despite smoking restrictions coming in, there is talk of bars and other comfortable places where smokers can enjoy themselves. Parents can choose their schools for their children. A nation that once had an image of being controlling and uptight is today the most relaxed of any western country I know.
Somewhere along the line in our ban-everything, control-everything England, we have lost the plot. We used to be a nice country. Democracy, which once meant more than just majority vote — it meant caring for all — should now be renamed, The tyranny of the majority.
More than ever now in the 21st century we need to be tolerant of each other, and reasonable about things on which we disagree. This sort of blanket enforcement only erodes the very freedoms for which the UK is famous.