Vice Squad
Monday, May 14, 2007
England's Smoking Ban

England will join the policy of the rest of Britain on July 1 by instituting a public smoking ban that will apply to restaurants and pubs. The Guardian marks the occasion by devoting a special edition of its second section to smoking. Included in the festivities is a debate on the propriety of the ban between the ubiquitous Christopher Hitchens and the redoubtable Simon Hoggart. Hitchens, who last appeared in Vice Squad on January 16, 2004, in the aftermath of breaking New York City's smoking ban, is almost religiously opposed to the upcoming prohibition. Here's a sample:
...I do not object to smoking being banned on aeroplanes, in hospitals or in offices. But it has been a long time since any non-smoker has been forced to breathe the same air as a smoker. The upcoming general ban - Ms Hewitt's [Patricia Hewitt, Britain's Secretary of State for health] triumphant legislative monument - crosses a completely different line. It is no longer "about" the protection of non-smokers. It is "about" state-enforced behaviour-modification.
Hitchens also uses the debate to suggest again that Afghanistan's opium crop should be purchased for legal pharmaceuticals -- an argument he presented in the May/June 2007 issue of Foreign Policy.

Simon Hoggart, the Guardian's witty and insightful parliamentary sketch columnist (also previously mentioned in Vice Squad, December 20, 2004) is an ex-smoker, and he adopts the position that, essentially, there are no benefits to smoking:
Smoking is not like drinking. Booze has its drawbacks, as a visit to any British town centre on a Friday night will demonstrate. But we drink wine and beer because we like it. People do not like smoking. They smoke because smoking is the only relief from the pain of not having a cigarette. It is a wholly negative pleasure. That is why there has been so little fuss over the ban. Most smokers are privately relieved that it might help them give up.
Hitchens is a current smoker, and he has no use for the 'no benefits' argument: "There have been moments of reverie, wreathed in smoke and alone with a book, and moments of conversation, perfumed with ashtrays and cocktails and decent company, which I would not have exchanged for a year of ordinary existence."

The special section also features a contribution from the frequently hilarious columnist Charlie Brooker, another ex-smoker:
For years, cigarettes and I were trapped in an abusive relationship. They beat me up, internally speaking, yet I couldn't live without them. To say I smoked like a chimney would be misleading. A chimney emits smoke serenely, with little apparent effort. I screwed my face up like a constipated pug, dragging on one deathstick after another like it was my second career. I even smoked in the shower.
In the course of describing his own past smoking and multiple attempts to quit, Brooker mentions his (presumed) reaction to an antidepressant prescribed to help him quit smoking. The title of Brooker's column is "Warning: giving up smoking can seriously damage your health." The problems associated with some frequently-prescribed drugs, including very serious withdrawal symptoms, have not received much attention from Vice Squad, but they are immense. Here's a page devoted to withdrawal from benzodiazepines.

On a lighter note, Brooker has previously suggested pharmaceutical interventions to prevent romance; here's his anti-party rant.

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