Happy New Year! If I am slightly more irritable than usual, please bear with me as I am 6 days into stopping smoking. Of course I know all about the appalling harm to my health I incurred each time I lit up over the past 21 years and all the other myriad reasons why smoking is “a bad idea”. I know that nicotine is addictive. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t really like smoking – I did. I’m sure I’d enjoy it again if I lit up right now so don’t take those past pleasures away by calling them some form of false consciousness.
Sadly, the fun’s gone out of it now. Obviously, getting laid down low with an annual chest infection which was a portent of my future everyday life with emphysema wasn’t ever much fun either, but the Fun Police have won on smoking. They got their vital victory in getting the indoor smoking ban. Not that I get to go to the pub that much, but separating the good old pint of beer from his mate, the tab, was a crying shame. Not working in a traditional office meant that there wasn’t even the chance for the slight feeling of subversion of nipping out with the other renegades (usually secretaries who’d be more willing to divulge whatever gossip there was to someone rebellious enough to join them in their habit). Worse, it has led to smoking becoming a furtive activity – so much so that even going into the garden was something I’d describe as “sneaking out”. In my own garden. So long to all that then.
However, even agreeing fully that smoking is a bad thing, is there really any need to treat smokers, particularly those hoping to be converted to the non-smoking majority, like pre-school children?
This is a picture of the centrepiece to the NHS Quit Kit that is being advertised on the TV. Yes, it is a sticker chart. I’ve given the stickers to OMB (they don’t say anything smoking-related). I’m sure if I got him puffing away he’d be very keen to fill in the sticker chart and to be rewarded for kicking the habit. But he is 5. Me, I’m 39 and looking forward to day 25 where the sticker chart says that in a couple of months my lung function could increase by about 10% and suggests “How about going for a walk”. Sorry, no-one told me I couldn’t keep my mobility scooter. No deal.
The whole pack is so patronising that it is tempting to flip back to the old smoker’s attitude I adopted for years while the habit became less and less socially acceptable and to say, screw you, I don’t want to be part of your gang. But of course, that just shows how awful smokers are. Not smoking – we are all agreed about smoking’s filthiness – but smokers. Perhaps it is the paranoia of a few nicotine-less days (although my helpful Quit Kit doesn’t put paranoia down as a side-effect) but I sense that the real focus of part of the crack down by the Fun Police is against the sorts of attitudes that have to be held by smokers for them to carry on with their nasty habit. They are horrible people who don’t live their lives on the basis of other people’s welfare – just on an assessment of the impact on their own welfare where they have used their terrible freedom to decide that they prefer to take the risks of harming their health alongside the pleasures of their habit. That cannot be allowed.
So, on to the next target of the Fun Police. Drinking. Now, I have actually also decided to stop drinking for January, but that is coincidental. The government wants to bring in minimum pricing for alcohol. Just as with the smoking ban, this is really just a way of discouraging or punishing a particular sort of attitude or person. People who might get along quite happily without drinking through the week but who, when they go out for a night out, might just want to get bladdered. The others, the alcoholics and the street drinkers, are going to carry on regardless, they’ll just get more desparate and more impoverished by their addiction. It is the ordinary folk who commit the crime of drinking because they like the effects of alcohol rather than an appreciation of the effect of terroir on the expertly kept wine offered by their sommellier who are being targeted. People having just the wrong sort of fun entirely. Young people’s fun. Ordinary people’s fun.
That doesn’t mean that the trouble that can be fuelled by binge-drinking shouldn’t be tackled – it should. Women shouldn’t be raped. People shouldn’t be assaulted. But, they also shouldn’t be made to feel that it is their fault if this does happen to them after drinking. They’re still the victim. It is good that the idea of a woman dressed up attractively is “asking for it” is becoming unacceptable. It is a bad development to bring it back in a wider form by letting the Fun Police vilify drinkers as “asking for it”. Particularly if this is then to be used to ration access to services as has been suggested by some – categorising alcohol-related injury and illness as self-inflicted.