Thursday, February 17, 2011


Simon Clark reports today that the push for outdoor smoking bans in the UK has begun in earnest after Mayor Bloomsberg's announcement that all smokers are to be barred from everywhere - including the wide open air in New York.

Most people think this is a step too far to take from civil liberties, others are outraged at the sheer misrepresentation of YouGov's bigoted study by anti-smoker Peter Kellner. I'm a mixture of sad, suicidal and scared - but heartened by the calls for direct action at last.

I wait to hear when the march is and where. Those better at organising than I am might be able to sort this out. I hope so. I'm there with as many people as I can muster and I feel there will be many. This is a threat too far.

I've tried to explain here why I'm so passionate about choice and the current war on people who chose to smoke which is leading societies into dangerous places and, in my view, backwards socially.

This issue - which I have now been involved with politically for 10 years - six before the blanket ban - has made me question everything I've ever believed about this country, fairnesss, equality, discrimination, justice, tolerance and socialism.

It has taken everything that was instilled in me as a member of the post war generation, that was absolutely adamant that it did not want fascism to rear it's ugly head again, and shown me that socially moral right and wrong have got all mixed up in a whiplash of propaganda enforced trend and fashion.

I remember my old headteacher, a former RAF WW2 pilot, and the assemblies we used to have. He told us that Britain was great because we were a free country where no one could tell us what to eat or drink or when we should go to the toilet. He said ours was the greatest nation on earth because we had free choice. He pointed to bad examples of other countries like Russia, Poland, Hungary, and said they were ruled by Govts that told them what to do all the time. Govts have no place in people's lives, he said.

I know my children's generation was the first to have the anti-smoking message so firmly implanted in their psyche and I always supported education about the health risks associated with smoking. My children, at least, got balance in the home and saw and experienced that smoking was nothing to fear. Balanced information about the health risks and the reasons people choose to smoke didn't result in any of my children taking up the habit before they were legally old enough to do so. Only one is a smoker of four.

I doubt balance on this issue would occur to never smokers, or ex-smokers, or anyone 20 years ago when the one sided propaganda nature of this issue began to trouble me a lot. I think the generation of school children after mine was the first to be taught how "filthy, selfish and unhealthy" smokers are and how they are to be feared - like the plague.

That's when it began to turn from health education to nasty slander and abuse. Some people appear to have no interest in this debate other than to dive in and goad smokers for fun. They throw insults like daggers but then get all indignant and innocent when smokers answer back in kind.

They call passionate debate "foaming at the mouth" because they either don't have any passion or they are so inward looking they cannot believe people can be passionate about something they dislike. Equating passion for a cause with ranting is also a good way of undermining reasonable debate. Perhaps they go in there to have fun at our expense which is just plain mean and infantile - perhaps they work for anti-smoker lobby groups and aim to negate what we say just in case someone in Govt is listening.

It feels as if our lives are about as worthless to that sort of person as women campaiging for the vote was to those anti-suffragette's who thought women's right's activists had no reason to complain

As the anti-smoker of modern day life gains some sort of sadistic pleasure from insulting smokers, so did those anti-women voters of 1908. Just look at how they glorified and giggled at images of women being force fed in jail. I am sure the "majority" of people of that time scoffed at these women campaigning for the vote as "silly" too.

This issue in the 21st Century is as important to me as the issue of women's rights in the 20th Century, Civil Rights in the USA in the 1960s, and gay rights in the 1980s. Those who allege to "care" about injustice languish in this sort of history believing it can never happen again in enlightened society. They really should take a long hard look in the mirror to make sure they are not staring bigotry and intolerance in the face.

Govts are ignoring our modern social tragedy by encouraging discrimination, exclusion and isolation of a minority group which is passionate about its beliefs while holding it up for public contempt with the full backing of the law.

Smokers need not "harm" anyone else with choice and that is the bottom line if you believe the scam about SHS. Personally, I believe F2C because there is no money in it for them when they say that their survey showed only 7% of people believed SHS was a threat.

Whatever my beliefs or anti-smoker's beliefs, the fact is both sides of what has become a very acrimonious debate can be accommodated through choice, balance and fairness. In a modern tolerant society there is no place for hysterical propaganda designed to promote exclusion. That should have been left behind last century once and for all. We cannot call ourselves "progressive" otherwise.

More restrictions if they come will cause further isolation but they won't make one lifelong smoker quit. This blanket ban is not about health. It is about hate and profit and it depends for its income on some of the most vulnerable people in this country - the easy to get at - the poor and the old.

It may take the same kind of drastic action as throwing myself under the Queen's horse at Ascot to make this ignorant Govt finally sit up and just listen to the other side of this debate - and there are always two. If the outdoor ban and the rest follow, frankly, this is not a country I would want to live in nor a society I would want to live among.