When I was young, and smoking was almost a rite of passage, I smoked.
I smoked twenty, or more, cigarettes a day.
I do not particularly remember smoking. I can’t testify to the joys it brought, or the benefits I experienced from it. I just don’t recall how it felt.
But I can remember giving up.
I can remember the sleepless nights, the torturous paranoia, the deep frustration. And I know that if that reckless car drive I performed at one stage in the process had ended with a stay in hospital, I would not have been an easy or a responsive patient; which is why I find the ‘Ash’ rats’ latest target, the complete banning of cigarettes in hospitals, a little tasteless even for them.
Put simply, a hospital has no place in the enforcement of a smoking ban.
I can tell you from experience that the stress of enforced withdrawal is certainly not something that sits easily with worry or fear of illness.
Quite apart from the inevitable dangers presented by patients driven to ‘secret smoking’ or insisting upon discharging themselves prematurely, how do you placate the dying patient whose last request is for a cigarette? Try to persuade them it would be bad for their health?
Personally, if I have a fortnight to live I would rather not spend it giving up smoking.
The problem for us all is that we are too easily persuaded, too ready to be led.
Smokers, I’ve found, no longer mind being corralled into stockades exposed to the east wind, or reviled openly on the streets. They are imbued with a sense of guilt bestowed upon them by the righteous, a garment they wear reluctantly, but resignedly. This is not enough, however, to satisfy the quite different cravings of those zealot attack-dogs who can only gain satisfaction by bending the will of others. The issue it seems to me is our growing acceptance of their pernicious addiction in every corner of our daily lives.
Beware the growth of cause at the expense of reason. Quite simple issues can cause complications if they are not thought through. Just as bombing does not win wars, banning does not cure habits. Addiction is as much psychological as medical. You can’t stop it by hitting it with a bludgeon. Look up the contemporary literature surrounding the prohibition, or, more topically, that which denies the continuing success of trade in hard drugs. Did somebody tell me the other day that Afghanistan’s opium harvest this year was its biggest ever? You see, I don’t keep records; I just try to let good sense be my guide.
And good sense tells me that banning vulnerable people from smoking in a circumstance where they have no choice but to comply is not just pure and simple bullying, it is a travesty of reason and a breach of a human right.
Let me emphasise: I do not smoke. I have not done so for thirty years. I do not defend smoking. But I defend absolutely, as long as it is legal, the individual’s right to smoke if they wish.