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How Government Brands Smokers

Joe Jackson
19th March 2010

Living in the UK today feels a bit like being back at school, says Joe Jackson. Rules and regulations, bullying and humiliation, especially if you’re a smoker.



The film director James Cameron, when attacked for having the nerve to show a character smoking in his blockbuster Avatar, recently defended himself by saying that he, of course, knows that smoking is a ‘filthy habit’ – he just doesn’t think he should be forbidden to show it. Thanks, James. With friends like you, who needs enemies?

I am a smoker, and I’m pretty fed up. Mostly I’m fed up with a rich and powerful antismoking movement which seems immune to any criticism of its lying, bullying, and vested interests. But on a daily, personal basis I’m just fed up with being accused of ‘stinking’ and indulging in something ‘dirty’: a ‘filthy habit’. I took a shower this morning and put on clean clothes. My teeth are brushed and my nails manicured. Can anyone tell me – I mean, in a reasoned, logical way – why I am so ‘filthy’ for smoking tobacco?

Is ‘filth’ a kind of euphemism, by which some people mean that that smoking is aesthetically unpleasant to them? If so, it’s purely a matter of taste, and to insult people just because you don’t share their pleasure is just plain rude. Personally, I can’t stand dogs – I’m allergic to them, and think they’re smelly. But I can see that many people love them, so I bite my tongue and try to be tolerant. I certainly don’t want the government banning dogs from every pub in the land.

Disgusting

I’ve asked quite a few tobaccophobes to explain exactly what is ‘filthy’ about smoking, and I haven’t gotten a straight answer yet. It just is, they say; everyone knows it. Look at that overflowing ashtray! Disgusting! Well, OK, but cigarette ends and ash are garbage. An overflowing ashtray proves not that smoking is filthy, but that someone isn’t doing a very good job of garbage disposal.

Chicken bones, fish heads, and vegetable peelings are not very nice either – does that mean food is filthy? The smell of stale beer and wine dregs may be unpleasant to some – does that make drinking a ‘filthy habit’? ‘Kissing a smoker is like kissing an ashtray,’ or so they say. Well, I don’t eat meat, and kissing someone who’s just eaten a steak would be unpleasant to me. But ‘filthy’?

Anyway, it’s one thing to be insulted because of fashionable prejudice. It’s rather more disturbing, though, when it’s officially sanctioned or even encouraged. A recent NHS campaign used the slogan ‘If you smoke, you stink’. Even if this were true, is it really their job to say so?

Contemptuous

A couple of years ago I saw a health official with a contemptuous, screwed-up face interviewed on BBC TV. Smoking, he said, was like spitting in public, something self-evidently disgusting and uncivilised, and when it’s finally wiped out, we will all look back and marvel that anyone ever did it at all.

I ask again: what does this have to do with health? Why is it any of his business?

Look, also, at the way the smoking ban is discussed in the mainstream media. We hear nothing about the legitimacy, or otherwise, of such legislation – about whether its stated justifications hold up to any scrutiny. Mostly it’s inane gossip about who personally likes the ban and who doesn’t.

Solutions like improving ventilation or a choice of smoking and non-smoking venues are likewise rarely even mentioned …. because smoking stinks! It’s a filthy habit! And in today’s Britain, we must ban not only anything which might theoretically cause harm, but also anything which might somewhere, some time, cause offence.

School

Living in the UK today feels, to me, a bit like being back at school. Rules and regulations, bullying and humiliation. Except that this is a school in which the teachers actually encourage the bullies to beat up the fat kids, or the kids who don’t like sports, or the kids who don’t like the food. If the government can actually prove that ‘secondhand smoke’ has ever killed anyone, why don’t they just make tobacco illegal and have done with it? Let’s see if tobacco prohibition can be as ‘successful’ as alcohol prohibition in 1920s America, or the ongoing prohibition of cannabis.

And if active smoking is as dangerous and addictive as antismoking crusaders claim, then why are smokers not treated with compassion? Is it just more fun to call us stinking dirtbags?

One thing’s for sure: so much meanness, intolerance, divisiveness and hate must inevitably provoke a backlash. I can’t wait.

Joe Jackson is a musician and writer
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