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Written on November 10, 2004, and categorized as Secret and Invisible.
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The serious debate about whether to ban smoking in Britain is being had, long-drawn battle-lines are being tested and moved, and dominos are falling. Ireland is now painfully and slowly adjusting to the ban on tobacco in public places. Bars and eateries there are reported to be 20% less profitable as personal pleasures are squeezed by the sensible measures introduced to protect the health of leisure workers who have to work in the fug. Scotland is about to follow suit, and London will be hot on it’s heels.

I have mixed feelings about this. I loathe and detest the tobacco companies and establishment’s legalised addiction, and the sooner this vice is revealed as the destroyer of lives and habitats, the better. Smokers are being marginalised, driven outside, refused a place to settle. In Sydney, they are even about to be banned from smoking in the streets.

Smokers will soon become a rare species, in the developed world at least, because the tobacco companies are still projecting large future profits as they target the developing world where health education is less and public health laws non-existant.

While I am happy to see laws enacted everywhere to force the corporations to build specialist heart and lung hospitals, I believe smokers need our support, not our scorn. As always, it’s the addict who suffers most, and punishing the sick seems churlish. The compassionate thing to do would be to set aside special reserves for them to live out their remaining addicted years, free from persecution, provided with Nicotine gum, rage management counselling, and additive-free tobacco in the meanwhile.

In the UK we are also attempting to ban fox hunting, and this is meeting stiff resistance at both local and governmental level. Personally, I loathe this archaic ritual cruelty as much as I loathe smoking. Wilde is often quoted on the subject: “the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible”.

Conservatives see the ban argument in terms of social control, and fear that ban culture will be extended beyond the realms of reason, but this is no excuse for hanging on to outdated poisons and prolonging bad public health. The real problem with banning smoking, as with banning hunting is that not enough thought (and no funding) is given to dealing with the consequences, and nothing is done to re-direct banned activity. Smoking, like hunting, profoundly affects emotion and is a means by which we control our mood. Curtailing behaviour without providing alternatives is bound to hurt individuals and cause social unrest, and I don’t just mean grumpiness and the odd parliamentary flour bomb. It comes down to our denial of our needs – the need for excitement and aggression, the need for release, the need to belong. You can guarantee that the new social groups created by the bans will be stronger for having been forged in the heat of resistance to the imposition.

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