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The Charge of the Anti-Smoking Brigade

Comment Editor Toby Fuller takes the side of that much-maligned underdog: the smoker.

In the dawn of the 16th Century, Europe was first introduced to her beloved Nicotiana Tabacum; a plant whose scent would perfume the continent for the next five hundred years. Those dried leaves of the Americas soon metamorphosed into the glowing companion which we recognise today as, ‘the cigarette’. The blue-tinted ringlets of smoke that currently surround me are as dear to me now as they were five years ago, that night on which my lips first savoured the bitter warmth of smoking tobacco.

Alas, today one can no longer take pride in membership that exclusive fug-filled club of woodbine puffing. Instead, one is vilified and condemned with the kind of fervour that one would expect to receive for exposing one’s genitals at a dinner party. It seems that the breed of man which is ‘the smoker’ is a dying one; rejected by society and punished for the victimless crime of tobacco inhalation.

Since the days of New Labour, smokers have faced successive legislative acts restricting our liberty. The smoking ban has tyrannised society, contributing to the decline of the great British ale-house and forcing our clan to resort to huddling in car-park corners for warmth and solidarity.

One of the most notable restrictions of smoking movement in recent years is of course the dreaded ban enforced by the bureaucrats of the National Health Service. Now, one is required to revert to school-boy tactics of fagging-away in the bushes and behind the boiler-house when one visits health care facilities.

However, the question remains; why should smokers be allowed to indulge in self-centred decadence at the detriment of other people’s health? I concede, they should and must not. The ban on smoking in places of work and certain enclosed spaces is a necessary protection of the general public’s health. Yet government policy does not exist to protect others; it instead seeks to coerce the smokers of Britain into surrendering to the majority and kicking the dreaded habit.

The task of smokers today is to assert our rights to engage in our little vice without unnecessary restriction or social condemnation. This task is twofold. First, one must rebut the argument from utility; that smokers are a drain of public resources. I wave my half-smoked-pack of Marlboros in objection to this claim. The costs to the NHS due to smoking related illnesses in the period of 2005-6 were approximately £5 billion, whereas government revenue from tobacco duties in the same period amassed to a total of £8.4 billion. On the grounds of utility, smoking actually contributes to the government’s coffers rather detracting from it. And so let us do away with this false syllogism that is so often propagated by the anti-smoking brigade.

The second battle-line is entrenched in the superficial appeal from human compassion; the agency of causing harm to oneself it broadly legitimate, but what about the loved ones who are left behind. Surely they should not be made to suffer at the hands of our own self-gratifying demise. I do not say they should.

However, let us once again look at the statistics. On average a 20-a-day habit will reduce one’s lifespan by 10-15 years whilst the life-expectancy in the United Kingdom is 80.1 years of age. It is true that my chances of living past the age of 65 is significantly diminished by my habit, yet is this prospect so horrifying? I think not. When the party is drawing to an end I intend to leave gracefully. I do not wish to burden my family and friends, financially or emotionally, by slouching in the corner losing control of my bladder and mind when it would be better that I left them to embrace their own youth and potential. No, I do not see it kind to linger without purpose.

And so, comrades, my brothers in cigarette wielding arms, do not yield to the lip-curling and petty frowns of our fellow men. Tobacco is a vice to be savoured; a habit that one can indulge without the harming of others. It is a pleasure that must be protected from the do-gooders and dictatorial pen-pushers who desire a utopian society of lentil munching, fat burning bliss. Instead, our bliss is one expressed most clearly through the aperçu of Oscar Wilde’s Lord Henry Wotton; ‘A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?’

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