SMOKING, like politics, brings out the worst in people. But it’s not smokers I find objectionable; it’s the joyless bastards who are trying to drive it out of our society that I really hate. I’m not a smoker – my asthma won’t allow it – but there’s something about anti-smoking activists that boils my tits. (I did once light a cigar with a £10 note, but in my defence, that was only to piss off Aamer Anwar, so I don’t really think it counts.)
Friends often ask me why I stand up for smokers’ rights when I’m not only not a smoker but actively suffer when people smoke heavily in my presence. Well, I’m not sure if it’s the sanctimoniousness, the thin-lipped puritanism, or the sheer pleasure they clearly take in telling others how to live their lives; but whatever it is when I hear the acronym ASH, it makes me want to puff on a fat stogie like it’s going out of fashion. Which it clearly is.
You can see it in the ridiculous article this week by the Independent cricket writer Stephen Brenkley, who lamented a trio of scandals that have hit the English game in the last few days. An England player had been accused of cheating by tampering with his bat; another got drunk and pissed on a nightclub bouncer in Brighton. But, for Brenkley, these were mere amuse-bouches for the main course: “Perhaps worst of the lot, three players who took part in the draw at Old Trafford… were photographed smoking outside a Manchester restaurant.”
Perhaps worst of the lot. Worse than cheating, worse than pissing on someone’s fucking shoes, was three grown men having a cigarette. Really, Stephen? Really? The head shakes at such idiocy. Allan Massie put it far better than I could, of course; “Ye Gods and little fishes! It is hard to believe that a grown man and experienced journalist wrote such poppycock.” Quite.
You can see it in the haste with which the EU has rushed to crack down on e-cigarettes, egged on by spurious “health campaigners” who are usually in reality little more than government-funded sock puppets. Despite the complete – complete – absence of any evidence that e-cigs cause even the slightest harm to their users’ health, the authorities decided to classify them as pharmaceutical products, vastly restricting their future availability.
Train companies, too, are quickly moving to ban the use of e-cigs by passengers and staff. And in New York, the increasingly authoritarian Michael Bloomberg – who never saw a pleasure he did not want to outlaw – is drafting tobacco control legislation which will almost certain reduce yet further the ability of law-abiding citizens to puff away on a fag, though of course they don’t call it a fag, as I found to my cost in a crowded Greenwich Village bar on one unfortunate evening many years ago.
I’ve never smoked an e-cigarette and don’t plan to in the future. But what I do find interesting about the campaign to ban e-cigs – because be in no doubt, that is the endgame here – is that it is proceeding apace despite the fact that the stated reasons for the original smoking ban – the risks of passive smoking, disturbance to other customers, and harms to health – patently do not apply to these devices.
In the case of e-cigs, campaigners have argued that they should be cracked down on because they have not yet been proven to be safe. The absence of evidence is now sufficient to have something banned. These joyless, spunk-gargling fucksticks have, successfully, inverted our traditional understanding of risk management.
What is most revealing is the language that these frenzied bansturbators are using, and increasingly persuading the rest of us to use as well. Transport for London, announcing this week a ban on staff use of e-cigs, didn’t even pretend that they were concerned about the health implications of the things. In an email to staff, they wrote: “E-cigarettes and nicotine inhalers are extremely difficult to differentiate from real cigarettes, therefore if someone uses an e-cigarette or nicotine inhaler in the workplace it might look like they are smoking a real cigarette. This is not the image we want to portray to customers and colleagues.”
This is not the image we want to portray to customers and colleagues. Since when was smoking an unpleasant image? Who, ever, saw Ingrid Bergman with a cigarette holder between her lips and decided they didn’t want to fuck her? What kind of people are these?
The campaign to denormalise smoking is depressing not because it is successful – though it is – but because it is so insidious. Since it cannot succeed solely through education about health risks, through an informed conversation with the public about how bad smoking is for you, it must be enacted through incessant rises in taxation, in calls to remove scenes of smoking from TV and movies, in the idiocy of plain packaging. Since we cannot be persuaded – or rather, since we are being persuaded, but too slowly for their liking – we must instead be nagged, bullied and treated like children at every turn.
And I think that’s what it is about the anti-smoking brigade that really raddles my nuts. I hate the smell of smoke on my clothes, but I hate being treated like a fucking child exponentially more. Governments have killed far more people than Marlboro ever did. Mind your own fucking business.