The repugnance of smoking bans has been covered to death on this blog, but this Guardian debate between Christopher Hitchens and Simon Hoggart is too perfect to pass up: perfect for Hitchens’ unrestrained disdain for nanny statists and Hoggart’s self-righteous, absurd apologia. For a taste, here’s Hitchens on zero tolerance for smokers:
Just ponder the implications of those last two words for a second. They say, without any ambiguity, that tolerance is to be despised. Forget all the usual babble about “inclusiveness” and “diversity”. If you want to toddle round to the Rat and Goldfish and have a smoke and a drink while you mutter over the newspaper, you can forget it. There are people who have taken you into account, and weighed and measured your situation, and who have other plans for you. What a pity that you had better things to do than attend that committee meeting where your private pleasures came under scrutiny. Bet you wish you weren’t so easily bored.
And the uniquely relaxing pleasure of good tobacco with good drink:
There have been moments of reverie, wreathed in smoke and alone with a book, and moments of conversation, perfumed with ashtrays and cocktails and decent company, which I would not have exchanged for a year of ordinary existence.
What does [Secretary of State Patricia] Hewitt know of this and by what right does she presume to arbitrate it? I have probably written more books than she has recently read, and I object, mildly but very firmly, to her having any say in my personal decisions. I object to her poisoning my relationship with my favourite bartender, who must now pull a face and regretfully decline, and furthermore act as an enforcer, lest he be fined. Now I cannot go there again, can I? And I do not much want to. One small defeat for me: one giant triumph for Hewitt. The little sum of human happiness – the public stock of harmless pleasure, as it was once defined – has been radically reduced. And who is better off for it? Nobody had to come to that joint if they didn’t want to.
Hoggart’s self-pitying journey from smoker to meddler, in contrast, has little going for it, starting with this description of his struggle with addiction:
This resolution has always been tough, and over the years it got tougher. For one thing, there is no such thing as an ex-smoker who becomes a non-smoker. Once you are a smoker, you are trapped for ever. You might be able to give up – in my case, I hope to the end of my days – but you are still a smoker in the way that a dry drunk is an alcoholic. It is easier to change sex than to cease being a smoker, though at least you can ameliorate the effects by not actually smoking.
Hoggart’s lack of willpower not withstanding, there are currently more former smokers than current smokers in the US. Millions of people taste the forbidden fruit of tobacco and give it up.
Hoggart next goes on to claim on behalf of smokers that smoking isn’t even enjoyable:
Smoking is not like drinking. Booze has its drawbacks, as a visit to any British town centre on a Friday night will demonstrate. But we drink wine and beer because we like it. People do not like smoking. They smoke because smoking is the only relief from the pain of not having a cigarette. It is a wholly negative pleasure. That is why there has been so little fuss over the ban. Most smokers are privately relieved that it might help them give up.
If Hoggart doesn’t like smoking and still smoked sometimes 70 cigarettes a day, he’s got problems. But lots of people genuinely enjoy it, either for the social experience, the relaxation, or the taste of fine tobacco.
And then there’s this:
(When, in the 1980s, Northwest Airlines in the US banned all smoking, it was predicted that it would lose business. In fact, passenger numbers improved so much that every other airline had to follow.)
So he’s using an example of non-smoking preferences winning in the free marketplace as evidence that it should be banned by force in bars and restaurants? Did he put any thought into this essay at all?
And this is not a freedom issue. It is no stride on the long march to serfdom. Go to any meeting of Forest, the displeasing pro-tobacco lobby, and you will see that quickly. Their predecessors were no doubt around centuries ago defending the right of householders to empty their chamber pots into the street.
Wait a second. The public street is just about the only place people can still smoke (though even that’s not allowed in some places). It’s privately owned places people can choose whether or not to enter where the ban is being applied. Again, what was Hoggart thinking? Perhaps if he still took an occasional smoke break to renew his concentration he could put up a better argument.
[Thanks to David for the link.]