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Thoughts on smoking, vaping and middle-class snobbery

I was planning to publish the full transcript of my midweek interview on BBC Radio Guernsey.

Unusually however it was 24-minutes long and I don’t want to impose the whole thing on readers. Instead, here are some edited ‘highlights’:

On smoking being banned on government property

It would be excessive and also rather hypocritical because governments benefit massively from the taxation from tobacco. I mean the taxation that’s raised from tobacco far outweighs the cost of treating smoking related diseases for example. Now I understand the government, like hospitals, don't want to be seen to encourage people to smoke but I do think they have got to be a bit more pragmatic about this and stop treating smokers not just as second class citizens but really as third class citizens.

Tobacco is a perfectly legal product. It is not an illegal drug. People are allowed to buy it and as I say the state benefits massively in terms of finance. We've already got a ban on smoking in all enclosed public places and when that was brought in it was brought in, we were told, to protect the health of bar workers. There was no mention at the time that some years later the smoking ban was going to be extended to outdoor public places as well and if we talk about smoking outdoors there's absolutely no threat to the health of any non-smoker so there really is no justifiable reason to ban it, whether on government property or any other outdoor public place.

On tobacco being made illegal

I think there are two things here, one is pragmatic and one is to do with the pleasure of smoking. In purely pragmatic terms we know that prohibition doesn't work. We all know what happened in the United States in the Twenties and Thirties when they tried to ban alcohol. All that happens is you drive the product underground and the people who benefit financially are the criminal gangs, and exactly the same thing would happen with tobacco. You wouldn't stub it out. People would continue to smoke. I mean we see [what’s happening] where smoking is largely banned in prisons in England, for example, and what's happening is that prisoners are turning to illegal drugs such as spice, which I am told is cheaper than tobacco, [so] people will always get around prohibition and, quite often, you will move people on to products that are potentially even more dangerous, but what basically happens is that you lose control of the market. So you are never going to stub it out completely.

Also, there is a fundamental thing here which a lot of people think is almost taboo to talk about these days. Yes, there are people who wish to quit smoking, yes there are people who wish they had never started smoking, but there are still a considerable number of people who take great pleasure from smoking, they enjoy it. They know the health risks, they know that they are potentially putting their health at risk, particularly in the long term, but they get so much pleasure out of smoking that they are prepared to put that to one side and I think we have to respect people's choices and if people choose to smoke a legal product then I think they have every right to do that as long as they are considerate to those people around them, and I think you will find these days that smokers are increasingly considerate to people around them. They have to be because they know if they are not considerate to other people then we are going to get more and more people demanding a complete ban on smoking in public places.

On vaping in public places

What people have to understand is that there are two different types of vaping. A lot of people can what they call ‘stealth vape’. You wouldn’t even be aware of it. You might be very close to them but you would have no idea because they are gently puffing away on a vape pen or something, but the pictures we see in the media tend to show people vaping these huge clouds of vapour. Now that is not the norm. Very few vapers do that and if they do that it in public places with a lot of people around them, frankly they are idiots and they are causing vaping to be banned in public places.

In pure health terms there is absolutely no reason to ban vaping in public places whatsoever. In fact if you're in the public health lobby or in government you would be absolutely mad to support a ban on vaping in public places because clearly at the moment vaping has been quite successful, it has been quite popular in the last few years. Smokers are switching to vaping. At the moment in the UK as a whole about there about three million vapers, about half of those are what we call dual users. So they are both vaping and smoking and but half have given up smoking completely.

The evidence at the moment suggests that vaping is massively less harmful, potentially less harmful, than smoking. So if you are in public health or government you really want to encourage people to switch from smoking to vaping. There’s absolutely no need, I mean it’s just ludicrous, to ban vaping in public places. If anything government should be encouraging smokers to switch and to vape instead.

On why a non-smoker defends smokers’ rights

I had the odd cigarette when I was 16 or 17 but I grew up in the Seventies when a lot of my friends smoked. I never took up smoking but I feel very strongly about this not just because I think smokers are under so much attack. I think it's quite wrong and unfair. I think it’s completely right that government educates people about the potential risks of smoking The government clearly has a role to play but when it comes to forcing, coercing people to give up through a whole raft of means, whether it's a comprehensive smoking ban, whether it’s punitive taxation, I think that's absolutely wrong.

I do think governments these days want to interfere in people's lives in a way that they wouldn’t have dreamt of doing 30 or 40 years ago and it's not just about smoking. It’s now alcohol, it’s now food and all the rest of it and in a civilised society we can't infantilise adults the way we are doing at the moment. People have to be allowed to make informed choices and if they choose to smoke that is a matter for them, it's not a matter for government.

On middle class snobbery towards smokers

There is a lot of snobbery, I have to say, around smoking. We get it all the time from cigar smokers. We defend people’s right to smoke cigars, smoke pipes, smoke cigarettes, we defend people’s right to vape, if that’s what they want to do. It all comes down to choice, but there is a huge amount of snobbery around smoking and you often find that cigars smokers will distance themselves from cigarette smokers and say, ‘Oh, we are a cut above them’, but I [also] think there is a lot of middle class snobbery here.

We know that, generally speaking, cigarette smokers tend to come from the C and D socio-economic categories. The majority of middle-class people have given up smoking and it tends to be people from perhaps poorer backgrounds who continue smoking. They are the majority of smokers these days. I think there is a huge amount of middle class snobbery that looks down their noses at people who smoke and I think it is quite outrageous actually.

For the full transcript, click here.

Incidentally, I’m glad to see that Chris Snowdon and I agree on middle-class snobbery. Here he is, speaking in Cambridge this afternoon:

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Reader Comments (1)

Antismokerism is snobbery.

I know the risks of smoking but I also know the alleged illnesses attributed to smoking are multi factorial and could be caused by a myriad of other things. I also know that heavy smoking will lead to an earlier grave than moderate smoking. I smoke because I enjoy my life and smoking is part of that.

Life is for living, not worrying about whether every mouthful of something I taste or experience will kill me. I don't count the days towards my 120th birthday, and then deduct half a year for every sugar donut, beer, wine, fizzy drink or cigarette I consume, nor for every mouthful of some rabid antismoker's car fumes I am forced to inhale.

Btw, after more than 50 years of smoking, I just had a full body MoT, such as an organ scan, blood and heart check, and I am absolutely fine for a woman of my age who has smoked from childhood to grannyhood. I don't think that means I will live to be 120 - thank goodness - because I think my genetics, based on my parents and grandparents, and the inequalities being forced upon me by the antismoker industry, means the spaceship will probably come and get me around the age of 75.

That may not be long enough for antismokers to deem a righteous life well lived, but they forget this is my life, my body, and no one, not the public nor the state, has any damn right to tell me what to do with either.

Also, thanks for dropping reference to "hardcore" to describe those of us committed to smoking for life however long that is.

Sunday, September 9, 2018 at 13:23 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

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