Think Politics / The Last Smoker

The Last Smoker

Let’s get this straight - I’m not a smoker. I’ve quit. Well, mostly. Sure I might steal the odd cigarette off a mate after the shandies have kicked in on a Saturday night… But I’m no longer lighting up on my way to work in the morning, so I feel pretty good about myself in this respect at least.

However, yesterday’s call from the UK’s chief medical officer, Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, urging the Government to introduce a ban on smoking in public places didn’t exactly leave me jumping for joy.

Sir Liam’s annual report into the nation’s health states that: “Very serious consideration should be given to a ban in public places soon.” This mirrors policy already enacted in some States in the US and legislation passed or being passed in countries such as Ireland and the Netherlands amongst others. Although the science seems by no means settled on this, Sir Liam is convinced that passive smoking is “a direct hazard to health” and is causally linked to cot deaths, lung cancer, heart disease and asthma.

I’d have thought it’d be a pretty strange cot death that was caused by people smoking in a bar, I can’t imagine many cots are ever present in them. But I can accept there probably is some health risk posed to my heart and lungs when inhaling that smoke from the group of lads at the next table and their seven packs of assorted lung busters. I can understand that.

I even imagine I might be precisely the sort of person to benefit most from a ban of smoking in public places. After all, the only time I succumb to the odd drag on one of those demon cancer sticks is in the sweaty confines of some bar or club in a weak moment made worse by the effects of a lager - if the smoke was entirely removed I might at last be free from the dreaded things.

But that’s not really the point is it?

There are many things hazardous to our health, and passive smoking or e liquid vapour doesn’t really seem to merit the huge focus it is currently receiving. I recently read, for example, that a trip on London’s Northern Line tube is equally damaging as smoking a cigarette. Nobody has a clue what the long term effects of Genetically Modified food might be.

And don’t talk to me about having a right to a smoke free environment until you can explain why this only applies to individuals choosing to smoke, and doesn’t apply to the companies, vehicle drivers and pesticide spraying farmers who prevent us all from having clean air, wherever we are.

Governments continue to be the friend of big businesses that damage our health, shielding polluters from prosecution and actively promoting many developments that may be horrifically damaging in the long term. So why their sudden concern for the nation’s health when it comes to tobacco?

The reason, of course, is that only a minority of us smoke now. Smokers are an easy target. Our history is punctuated with examples of the mob turning on minorities that are accused of damaging our health, be they medieval Jews accused of poisoning our water supply or recent immigrants to Britain accused of bringing TB and AIDS.

So perhaps this will soon be it, the mob will pass judgement and perhaps before we know it smoking in pubs, bars, restaurants and nightclubs will be a thing of the past. Perhaps that will prevent us all from ever wanting to light a cigarette. Perhaps nobody will smoke, perhaps we’ll save countless lives.

But we all know it won’t happen like that.

People will always smoke, whether it is legal or illegal, banned from public sight or not. All that will happen is most of the middle and upper classes will stop and people smoking will no longer be visible in our pubs, bars and nightclubs – they’ll be doing it at home or outside in an alleyway in the rain.

Who will be the last smoker? Let me make a prediction - it won’t be you or I. What scares me is this: there’s a strong chance that one of us might be the last smoker that society actually cares about.

Of course, after we’ve all quit and we can’t see people smoking in public we can claim the battle is won, surely? After all, if it’s only the poor and the deprived and the socially excluded who smoke those ludicrously over taxed fags - who would care?

I care. Restricting all of our freedoms to achieve such a pitiful goal is a price too high.