Tobacco, it seems, is finally, well and truly in the doghouse. In its heyday in the sixteenth century it was thought to cure all known ills, from worms to halitosis to cancer. Then, much more recently, when most people were pretty sure the opposite was true, they continued to smoke anyway, because they were under the impression it conveyed an air of sophistication, even intelligence. But then that was the past, and - just as they will in the future - people thought things differently there. For now at least, tobacco is unquestionably without merit, and as of Tuesday night, its days as an acceptable if incredibly stupid hobby, are numbered.
As from the summer of 2007, a blanket ban will be in effect. This will mean there will be no more smoking in pubs and clubs, irrespective of whether they sell food. There will be no more smoking in the workplace, irrespective of the views of the boss. Essentially, there will be no more smoking anywhere outside of private homes and - for now - in the great outdoors. And, presumably, smoking research laboratories. Fear not, animal-lovers. Hooked beagles will still get their fix. But for how much longer?
The government estimates that around 600,000 people will stop smoking as a result of the ban. This seems reasonable. Most smokers want to quit. Most have tried and failed. An environment where smoking is prohibited will provide enormous incentive. Many of these future quitters may be a little begrudging, bitter that they've practically been forced into something that they were incapable of doing off their own bat, but come the summer of 2008
when once again they can taste their food and smell the blossom and get through an entire day without coughing up brown phlegm, they will be thankful. In a press release, director of ASH (Action on Smoking and Health), Deborah Arnott, expressed her delight at the news, writing: 'This vote will save thousands of lives, as non-smokers are protected from other people's smoke and as smokers quit in their hundreds of thousands. MPs will rarely get the chance to cast a vote that does so much good, at such little cost, in such
a short time. This is the best news for public health for more than thirty years.' This view was echoed by Cancer Research UK and by just about everybody else who accepts that saving lives is pretty much the way forward.
But of course not everyone is happy. While on the one hand health authorities and workers' unions are high-fiving one another and ushering in the age of the Golden Lung, pro-smoking groups - most notably FOREST, who are fuming - have called it an infringement on personal choice. It is of course both. If people can no longer smoke tobacco in pubs and restaurants, then yes, they have most certainly had their personal freedom limited. But you know, fuck 'em.
Of course, if it weren't for the effects of secondary smoke on non-smokers, those squeaking about civil liberties would have much more of a leg to stand on. However, FOREST - who are so depressed by the new legislation that they can bring themselves neither to update their site nor return their calls - don't really buy into the whole passive smoking thing. FOREST director, Simon Clark, maintains, 'It is simply not true that the vast majority of research shows passive smoking is damaging health.' Right, Simon. And Roy Castle? Are you calling Roy Castle a liar?
Those who complain of nannying and rights erosion also point out that the government could easily have allowed for the existence of specialist smokers' bars, where non-smokers need never congregate and ill health through mere passive smoking need never be an issue. In this they have a point, and one can only assume that such an exemption was not entertained simply because if it were, loopholes would be created, and the chances of the ban being taken seriously would be greatly reduced. Basically, if it's going to work, then this public prohibition must be all-encompassing. It had to be that way. The government had been faffing for too long. They had to shit or get off the pot. They shat. And for once they managed to get it all in the bowl.
Naturally, the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association is displeased. It has claimed to be very disappointed that freedom of choice has been stubbed out once and for all. Manufacturers of Rohypnol and Lil' Bastard Suicide Kits are said to agree entirely, and are appealing for common sense. 'People must be free,' they argued, 'not only to hurt and damage themselves, but to do the same to others.'
Meanwhile the majority of the population, like the majority of MPs, seem to accept that - even though, God knows, it's not going to be easy - it probably is time to quit. Or at least it will be next summer. There's still plenty of time to poison the kids.