The Commons’ decision to outlaw smoking in public places marks the ultimate victory of the scientists and scaremongers and ushers in an age fit for wowsers
So that’s it, then. Time at last to clamber out of the muddy trench, chuck aside the tin hat and stumble towards the enemy line waving a white flag. The tobacco war is over. We fought an honourable fight against overwhelming odds but the Commons vote for an outright ban on smoking in bars, restaurants and private clubs was our Waterloo and now we must learn to live in a joyless peace.
Future historians will note how unequal was the struggle and how different the weaponry of the opposing armies. On the one side was the antique armoury of freedom, tolerance and liberty, of live-and-let-live and give-and-take. These were deployed under proud and ancient banners dating back to Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights, inscribed with the right of a free-born Englishman to go about his lawful business unimpeded by the State. How puny these proved under the constant onslaught of deafening, high-velocity statistics and megaton clusters of synthetic science.
Strange to think that in the early days we had the better of it. In skirmish after skirmish freedom held the day and the enemy was beaten back. That smoking harmed only the smoker and that it was his choice as a free-thinking adult to go to the devil in whatever manner he saw fit proved an effective spear, and many were the backsides it prodded.
But we underestimated the enemy and reckoned without his cunning. Our fateful error was to assume that there were rules of engagement, that each side would fight a fair fight. We made no allowance for bogus facts and figures or for phoney scientific evidence, and on that awful day when the sun rose over the scarred landscape and our disbelieving eyes first saw, towering above us, the monstrous trebuchet of passive smoking, we knew in our hearts we were done for.
We had no reply. Bootless to say that passive smoking was an invention, that it didn’t exist, that it made as much sense as passive drinking or passive sex, when there it was, created and manned by scientists and doctors – the high priests of our post-Christian, humanist society. Try though we might to prove that it was a thing of papier mÃ¢chÃ©, held together by sealing wax and string, we were powerless to dissuade the most stupid and gullible people in the land, the journalists and politicians. Newspapers knew that, like children at bedtime, their readers liked nothing better than being scared to their marrow by bogeymen and monsters. Politicians knew that theirs was a duty to “make a difference” and to make a mark. And if the difference was for the worse and the mark was upon the flesh of the rest of us, so be it.
We tried to sue for peace but with the scent of victory in their nostrils the enemy was ruthless and unforgiving. When we offered no-smoking areas in pubs and restaurants, demonstrated that better ventilation could remove the nuisance of tobacco smoke, and suggested bars and eating place where only smokers would be admitted we were rebuffed.
To the invention of passive smoking the Roundheads added daily salvoes of fresh ammunition, each more ingenious than the last until the air was thick with the acrid fog of counterfeit science and the land pitted with shards of spurious research. According to our foes there was no ailment to which man was heir, no calamitous condition of the flesh nor disease of the mind that could not be attributed directly to the effects, active or passive, of smoking.
Mumps, ingrowing toenails, underweight children, sore thumbs, ague, dropsy; the catalogue of misery inflicted by tobacco was ever-lengthening and would, if unchecked, soon encompass all that blighted the human condition. Likewise, the lifting of this scourge would augur a dawn of wellbeing unknown since prelapsarian Eden. And so it was that when the Commons vote was counted and the nay-sayers trounced, the victors were to proclaim rapturously that the lives of thousands had been spared and the longevity of millions more as yet unborn was assured. Bliss would it be in that land fit for wowsers.
And what price privacy when the alternative was a longer life in which to enjoy the intrusion of the State? Who among us would wish to meet with others in the confines of the British Legion without first inviting an officer of the law to attest to our unpolluted atmosphere and, God willing, cast an approving eye upon our gilt-framed portrait of Patricia Hewitt? Certainly not us law-abiding, battled-hardened veterans of the great tobacco war.