Let’s get one thing perfectly straight. Smoking cigarettes is not illegal in the UK. No matter how much the government tries to make smokers feel like criminals, smoking is not actually a crime. Just so you know, I smoke about ten ‘light’ cigarettes a month (on average) and I would break those ten into two batches of five, which are invariably smoked in the company of Irish Alice, who is, by all accounts, a devoted smoker and a bad influence (for which read ‘good egg’).
One of the joys of going to the pub, was to be in a grown up place, drinking alcohol and having a couple of fags if I wanted to. I understand that many people don’t like being in a smoky place which is why pubs always used to have Smoke Rooms so that people who didn’t smoke need not be troubled. Absolutely as it should be.
Last week there was a lot of publicity about whether the government was going to stop cigarette manufacturers producing attractive packets for their products, so as not to entice the young and impressionable. Apparently 60% of people who take up smoking stick with the brand they first tried. The manufacture of cigarettes is not illegal so they should be allowed to produce any pack design they like. As it is the packs are covered in public health warnings, and I think that as far as interfering with a legal product goes, that should be enough.
Did you know, that when people were allowed to smoke on aeroplanes, the air was much cleaner than it is now? The air in planes was completely renewed every three minutes. The air is now recycled causing a 6% increase in fuel consumption. The incidence of nausea and dizziness has increased since the air has been recycled and air rage incidents have also increased since smoking has been banned. I’m not suggesting smoking should be re-introduced, I’m just telling you.
There isn’t a person in the country who doesn’t know that smoking is bad for you. It causes or exacerbates cancer, lung disease, heart disease, circulation problems, strokes, diabetes, foetal abnormalities. No-one should be smoking around children, in cars with other people in them, on public transport or in enclosed spaces because it’s not fair to non-smokers and is extremely discourteous. Smoking should not be allowed in restaurants. Smoking makes your hair, breath and clothes smell. But it is not illegal.
What I find so enraging is that the government goes on and on and on about how people with smoking related illnesses are a burden on the NHS, are antisocial, selfish and nihilistic. They prevent cigarettes from being advertised and increasingly limit the places in which people can smoke but they know full well that they can’t manage without the revenue, so they don’t ban them.
It has been suggested that the revenue from tobacco products far outstrips the money spent on treating smoking related diseases in hospitals. This may or may not be true and no-one is suggesting that smoking isn’t bad for you. But where does government intervention and hypocrisy stop?
I put it to you that people who allow their children to become obese are guilty of neglect, ergo, abuse. People who stuff themselves with junk food day in and day out, never move and grow to be clinically obese are burdening the NHS with their own set of dietary-related illnesses. Alcohol causes more problems than you can possibly imagine but I don’t see the Famous Grouse being put in a plain bottle and sent back to its pen. And what about Alcopops? I mean, bloody hell, if ever there was a product aimed at children. To me, it’s only a short step from that to having Clifford the Big Red Dog advertising Marlboro full strength, but it would seem that Advertising Standards disagrees with me.
If someone is smoking twenty cigarettes a day, it’s going to have a detrimental effect on their health. If someone drinks a couple of bottles of wine every day, it’s going to have a detrimental effect on their health. If someone eats shit all day every day and never moves, it’s going to have a detrimental effect on their health. If someone is burdened down with stress and worries and isn’t sleeping, it’s going to have a detrimental effect on their health.
It’s the hypocrisy that I can’t stand. Having the odd fag, the odd drink, the odd MacDonalds (other fast food is available) isn’t going to kill you. Having lots of any of them just might. Until junk food and alcohol manufacturers are told to put their products into plain packets, the government should lay off the cigarette industry. If the government thinks it’s that much of a problem, ban it. But if they still want the revenue, then people must have the freedom to smoke or not. Pubs and clubs should be at liberty to have a smoke room, fag packets could have dandelions nailed to them if they want.
Photographs courtesy of Peter Ashley from his forthcoming book ‘The Cigarette Papers’.