I lit a cigarette in an open-air car park a couple of years ago as I was walking to the exit. I noticed a Nissan Micra heading towards me from the far corner and thought at first it was going to run me over. But it pulled up alongside and a woman put her head out of the window. ‘Do you realise that other people have to breathe in your smoke,’ she snarled, ‘including people like me, who have cancer.’ There was nobody within 50 yards of me, apart from this deranged woman who had driven double that distance simply to register her hatred.
I wondered for a while about the root of her rage and its curious displacement on to me. I could imagine her feeling piqued that it was she who’d copped the tumour, despite having lived a blameless life, and here was this apparently healthy uncancered individual who was doing the worst of all possible things, i.e. smoking. I suppose I could have tried to make her feel better by telling her that I was impotent, my teeth were falling out and I had gangrenous feet — all stuff which the cigarette packets warn you about these days. That might have cheered her up.
There is something weird about anti-smokers. I got into a lift at the BBC once with a cigarette in my mouth and a woman started coughing, apparently uncontrollably. And wafting her hand in my direction. Fair enough if the cigarette had been lit, but it wasn’t. It’s a kind of neurosis, isn’t it? A little like what George Orwell said about anti-racists — people who define themselves purely by their implacable opposition to something.
About 12 years ago I was drinking with friends in a London bar when an American man wandered over and said: ‘I don’t care to breathe in your smoke. Put your cigarette out.’ He looked like that chap in Casino who Joe Pesci stabs to death with a fountain pen. I didn’t have a fountain pen on me. But as he turned away, in one last act of smoking bravado I gathered together all the fags I could get from my friends, lit each one and put them in my ears, nostrils, eyes (screwed tightly shut) and about six in my mouth. He didn’t like that. But it was a last hurrah.
Two years or so later — July 1 2007 — the smoking ban came into force. The neurotic and fascistic anti-smokers of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) said at the time what they always say: this is as far as we want to go. And, as ever, they were lying. They are now supporting bans on smoking in beer gardens and the outside seating areas of restaurants. They were in favour of banning smoking in cars and ‘public places’. I give it a maximum of ten years before smoking is banned in the home at this organisation’s behest. ‘We do not attack smokers or condemn smoking,’ ASH says on its website — one of the finest pieces of doublethink imaginable.
ASH was also behind the idiotic plain packaging of cigarettes and the even more ludicrous decision to force shops to conceal their tobacco displays so that the poor shop assistant has no idea where a particular brand might be. There is not the slightest proof that either the plain packaging or the concealed displays have reduced smoking in this country, still less the hilarious photographs of very ill and unhappy people which now, by law, must adorn every packet. The man who can’t get it up has replaced the coughing woman as my favourite. He looks cowed and forlorn. I assume he’d been trying to schtup one of the harridans who work at ASH and that was the reason for his erectile dysfunction, nothing to do with smoking.
One of the aforementioned harridans, incidentally, is also on the board of Impress, Max Mosley’s press regulator so beloved by the luvvies of Hacked Off and the liberal papers. I assume smoking is not allowed at Max’s S&M orgies. You probably have to sneak out the back door for a quick gasper once you’ve been given a good seeing to by someone dressed as Reinhard Heydrich. Or not dressed in such a manner, m’lud, whatever.
The government and ASH were delighted to celebrate ten years of the ban and have said, without any evidence at all, that it has been ‘popular’ with the general public. How do they know? The last two opinion polls show that more people in the UK would like the introduction of smoking areas in pubs and clubs than are opposed to them. This was what the smoking lobby urged on the government before the smoking ban was introduced. We have also been told that certain kinds of heart disease have been falling year on year since the ban was introduced. That is true. But they were also falling year on year before the ban was introduced: banning smoking seems to have had no effect whatsoever. Indisputable, though, are the pub closures — more than 11,000, one fifth of the total, since July 2007. Not all have closed as a consequence of the ban, but it’s a fair bet to suggest that a good number shut up shop for that reason.
I suppose I will have to give in eventually. Kick the habit and find a new means to enjoyably kill myself. Perhaps I could move to a city, where the pollution from traffic fumes easily outweighs the damage done to my lungs by a few packets of Superkings. Or become an obsessive anti-something, possessed of clenched buttocks and a perpetually simmering rage at the actions of those most awful of human beings, other people. Get myself truly wound up, like the lady in the car park, furious beyond reason and no less doomed than the rest of us in the end. None of us gets out of here alive.