The smoking ban

July 2007 saw the start of the ban on smoking inside public places – except for private members’ clubs and the House of Commons. The ban has had a relatively larger impact on working class and mentally ill people. For the mentally ill smoking is an important crutch – and the dangers of smoking are often the least of their problems. For the working class, it’s just one more indignity. From the relative warmth inside a pub having a drink and a fag, now that winter’s here we’re banished like lepers out into the dark, often cold or damp outdoors.

Socialist organisations in this country have said virtually nothing about this ban, one that mainly affects working class people and their ability to socialise in in the way they’ve being doing for hundreds of years. I wonder how many people spend less time now in public places and retreat to their own private sphere at home – and is this a good thing?

Even if working class people gave up cigarettes, many are only likely to seek alternative means of artificial comfort – be it increased alcohol use or drugs – because of the pressures of everyday existence.

I suspect that privately many socialists approve of the ban on public health grounds and, from the evidence from Ireland since their public smoking ban started, it is true that the number of bar staff with chest and throat problems has declined.  But the whole issue of smoking and other public health concerns such as diet, obesity and lack of exercise, has mainly been concerned with individual responsibility and people’s apparent refusal to change their lifestyles in the face of overwhelming evidence that it would improve their health. 

This approach is often seen as killjoy Puritanism or preaching, because it doesn’t even begin to acknowledge the stresses and strains of everyday life that lead many working class people to smoke, drink too much or eat fatty ‘comfort’ food.  Apart from that, the public health ‘scares’ provide a convenient smokescreen (excuse the pun) for the fact that gross inequality in Britain is much more responsible for the poorer health generally and shorter life expenctancy of working class people than smoking or eating chips.  The brutal truth is that a rich smoker is likely to live longer than a poor non-smoker.

Perhaps a compromise solution is possible. To protect bar staff, smoking could be banned from the vicinity of the bar and to protect other customers, a smoking area with effective air conditioning could be provided. Maybe this could be introduced via a system of granting ‘smoking’ licences to a certain percentage of pubs in each town, city or group of villages.

This article was written by DL, a supporter of the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party and health worker.  The Socialist Party does not necessarily endorse the views contained in the article, but publishes the article because of our commitment to discussion and debate within the left and workers movement.

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One Response to “The smoking ban”

  1. Leftwing Criminologist Says:

    I’ve been thinking through the same points too. Similarly the question of binge drinking, the raising of the age to buy cigarettes raise similar question to do with ‘artificial comforts’. Whilst the health consequences are bad for the user and others, people should have the right to smoke or drink if they wish, whilst ample free support should be provided to help them quit if they wish.
    Another question is smoking at work. At my previous workplace, the facilities for smokers were terrible, one of those bus shelter things but you could fit hardly anyone under it and we had a pass system for people to go out and smoke, if loads of other people wanted to go out to smoke then you couldn’t – I don’t think this will help people stop smoking is what the act is ‘supposed’ to do.
    It is a question that should be discussed more

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