I am vehemently against smoking. I loathe, hate, detest this nasty, anti-social habit.
My dad smoked about 7 cigarettes every day for quite a lot of his life – everyone smoked when he arrived in the UK in 1952 – and every winter I witnessed my asthmatic mum almost at death’s door from bronchitis and asthma triggered and exacerbated by the cigarette fumes that lingered in the air. The first time I had to make Christmas lunch for about 10 guests I was about 10 years old and she was in bed for days. It was only when he finally stopped, prompted to do so by a lingering chest infection that caused his lungs to rattle and heave even when reclining in his favourite chair, that winters became a bit better for her.
I suffered the terrible pain of ear infection after ear infection. I was diagnosed with asthma at 7 years old and every morning it would take me about an hour of wheezing before I could breathe properly. My asthma is brought on by exercise too, and cold weather, and PE teacher had very little knowledge of this in those days so games and PE were a humiliating torture for me. Who would foresee that over thirty years later, with the help of a wonderful drug, I’d be running down along the Seine, 30km every week?
As I grew up my allergies and asthma became worse and I’ll never forget spending less than 5 minutes at a bar in Germany before starting to choke and wheeze and then spending the whole night before a friend’s wedding with a streaming eyes, coughing and unable to rest. And yet I was a deemed a party pooper for daring to suggest that I could not go into smoky places, and a miserable whinger for requesting that people did not smoke inside my house. How inconsiderate of me!
The only time I have ever been breathalysed was on returning, 8 months pregnant from a friend’s house where he had allowed some German friends to smoke. I was so wheezy that I had to leave and coughing so much that my 20mph drive home through an unlit wood was enough to generate suspicion in the police car behind me. Of course I hadn’t been drinking, but I was not well.
Such was, is, the sanctimony of far too many confirmed smokers. Luckily I have very few friends who smoke but I shan’t forget how the German wife of a friend took me to task for discreetly, silently, moving away from her cigarette smoke when we went to stay with her in Germany. Apparently there was no proof that her smoking did me any harm, despite my asthmatic wheezing and streaming eyes and nose. Her general defensiveness and aggression made me refuse to go and visit her again.
Over the years I learned to avoid smoky places but it was rare to be able to sit at a restaurant without people at the next table lighting up and blowing smoke away from each other but over me. Why do they do that, the smokers? They are already breathing in their smoke and that of their companion yet they hold their cigarette away from themselves so that it taints the air of those on the next table.
Smoking it noxious and I am allergic to it. It makes me very ill. Smokers may protest that it does not, but it’s my misery and I can attest that it does. Just last night one of the workmen was obviously smoking distractedly in my house. I think it must have been strong imported tobacco because within the space of a few minutes I was sneezing and my chest had tightened and I had to come upstairs and take an anti-histamine before I could go down and eat my supper. I don’t want to get heavy with builders but you should see the cigarette butts dotted around my garden ready to be sampled by my dogs and the local wildlife.
Smoking makes you stink. This is fine if it’s what you want – most of you seem oblivious to it – but I don’t see that you smokers have the right to make my clothes stink.
Smoking makes the air around you and behind you stink. You leave a noxious trail. You smokers might well have become inured to it and lost your sense of smell but, trust me, I haven’t. I can smell your smoke from a distance.
Smoking makes you lose your sense of taste. Again fine if that’s what you want but I have been to too many restaurants where the food is so salty that it must have been cooked by someone who has lost most of their sense of taste.
This is not even to go into the statistics about passive smoking and cancer and heart disease. Yes, I know you smokers pay tax but I wonder whether that actually covers the full cost to the NHS of your habit. And here I am trying, despite my asthma, to keep myself healthy and fit and within a reasonable weight.
Yes, it’s an addiction. But there is plenty of help out there if you need it. And these days it’s impossible to take up smoking without being aware of the risks to your health and that of your child or your unborn baby of anyone who shares you car or your pet cat. If you are still unaware than it’s due to your own wilful ignorance.
So, if you still want to smoke then fine but please don’t claim a right to do as you please if you are making me ill, if you are making my clothes stink of your filth, if you are forcing bar and restaurant staff to inhale it against their will. How is that an inalienable right? On what planet is it a courteous thing to do?
And please do not spin that guff about the equal effects of perfume or car pollution. If you are allergic to my perfume, I shan’t wear it. I won’t defend to the death my right to impose my fragrance on you. And I don’t like air pollution caused by car fumes or aircraft any more than you do. But that still doesn’t mean that you are justified in tainting the air I breathe with your own filthy, stinky poison.
So inside smoking bans have enabled me to go to pubs and restaurants without the constant anxiety that my evening will be ruined by self-satisfied rude morons. But it means that I am no longer free to breathe at, say, a pavement cafe or beer garden, overshadowed by clouds of the combustion products of whatever it is people smoke nowadays.
I couldn’t believe the tone of this article from the Guardian about outside smoking bans in Brighton. It’s illiberal and against civil rights is it? So what about my right to breathe air untainted by the 5,000 odd poisons in your smoke? So I’m all for outside smoking bans too. Let’s cut the total amount of air pollution and take some steps towards a healthier environment for all.
It seems to me that if smokers want to enjoy their habit, they should be allowed to do so in sealed smoking rooms that can be cleaned only by staff who are smokers. Let them. But they should leave in peace the other 80% of us who do not.