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Giles Coren: ‘Smoking – it’s so twentieth century’

Giles Coren thinks fags are stunting London’s growth

Written by
Time Out London contributor

Two squares in Bristol last week became the first smoke-free outdoor places in Britain.

‘Ha, ha, “squares” is right!’ you cry. ‘How totally uncool to prevent people sparking up outside where it can’t do any harm. It was bad enough when they banned smoking in restaurants and offices. This is the thin end of a wedge that will outlaw cigarettes altogether.’

Well, let’s hope so, eh? It’s ridiculous in 2015 that anyone still wants to smoke, let alone is allowed to. Smoking is just so over. It’s so not modern. It’s so embarrassingly twentieth century. Like gas chambers, asbestos and driving a car. Like graffiti, factory farming and going to the moon. Things that had never happened before the last century, didn’t need to happen at all and soon won’t, ever again.

Banning smoking indoors was a great start. Except that it forced the perpetrators outside, where I have to look at them, smell them, pity them, hate them. Those shivering, stinking, yellow-fingered losers, huddled like winter cattle in doorways, bloated and pasty, loading their faces with death and chucking their butts in the road.

The smoking ban in restaurants came in on July 1 2007, the same day (hilariously) that my 69-year-old father, who had been smoking since 1954, was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He told me he was dying of fags, then we went out for lunch, then he went outside for a fag. First time he (or anyone) had ever had to do that. ‘Lucky it’s a nice warm summer,’ he said when he came back in.

Luckier still, he was dead before the weather turned.

Dead because of a culture that said smoking was cool, a tobacco industry that suppressed information to protect its profits and a political establishment too weak to protect its people. So the most (only) important man in my life died at an age that would have been considered premature in fucking biblical times. And my kids never got to meet their grandfather.

So if central government is too weak to protect us then local government should. And I can’t bear for poncey bloody bourgeois organic vegan Bristol to be at the forefront. It should be London that leads other less-enlightened cities into a different and better future. Garden bridges, rad new buses, far-sighted social housing policies, Crossrail, cycle-focused road layouts and ensuring the street safety of women are important parts of that. But a full smoking ban is more important. Smoking kills more than cars, murderers, rapists and poverty-related diseases put together.

Resistance is futile. A hundred years from now, people will not know what cigarettes were. Smoking is functionally over among the people who have a say in our future. It is principally now a vice for prisoners, children, the very poor, the homeless, the drug- and alcohol-dependent and the very, very stupid. Now, we must feed and house and protect those people and respect them in all their vulnerability. But they do not get to decide how things will be. So let’s not waste time phasing it out slowly and painfully. Let’s just get it over and done with and move on. And not just in public places, but in private too. Some might hit back with the ‘only drives it underground’ argument beloved (about drugs) of the dopey left and (about guns) of the libertarian right but I’d shoot them all and do a fat line of coke and shout, ‘What about domestic abuse? What about incest? What about murder?’ We don’t just ban those in restaurants and offices, do we? We don’t allow those in parks or in pub doorways or on the steps outside the cinema.

We ban them everywhere because they are the sick, disgusting proclivities of damaged humanity and they hurt people and destroy the social fabric wherever they are done. Very few will fight for a man’s right to kill his family and himself with a sword or a gun in the privacy of his own home. Are you really going to fight for it so long as it’s done with a cigarette?

Put it out, right out. Tweet him @gilescoren. Read more from Giles.

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