Public life consumes itself
"The ban covers virtually all enclosed public places including offices, factories, pubs and bars, but not outdoors or in private homes." It also apparently covers doorways, bus shelters and any publicly used area with at least a partial roof on it. So shop and officer workers who smoke, as well as pub and club goers, will be congregating outside in the street indulging their habit. How long before that too is banned?
How long before someone sues local councils under human rights legislation and they're all obliged to provide brollies, benches and braziers for the smoking population? Does an umbrella count as a partial roof?
I'm being silly now, but that's because this whole thing IS silly. OK, non-smokers (and I am one) have rights too. But nobody ever inflicted passive smoking on me against my will. If I choose, for whatever reason, to enter a smokey environment, that's my choice! I can quite easily stay away. There is absolutely no reason why I would ever HAVE to endure passive smoking unless, perhaps, I was obliged to share a prison cell with a smoker.
I was a heavy smoker in my late teens though so I can see the other side of the argument. Unless they quit (which is extremely difficult and can only be successful when the smoker is psychologically very strong) a regular smoker has to have their fix in order to feel comfortable. Withdrawal symptoms include rising irritation, irrationality, panic, hallucinations and increasing paranoia. A few hours without a fix and you literally feel like you are going mad: it affects the brain in that way. Your desperation and obsession to secure your next fix takes over everything and you are increasingly unable to think about anything else at all.
These symptoms can take anything between 3 days and a week to subside, which is why stopping smoking is so very difficult. It's do-able (as evidenced by the many of us who have done it) but you can see that a ban on smoking in all enclosed public spaces is not going to do anything to help smokers achieve the high level of determination and psychological reserves of strength required to undergo days of cold turkey and kick the habit. You have to want to stop for yourself, not because someone made it inconvenient for you to continue.
Of course, there's a financial element to all this. Rebel smokers will be fined on the spot, £50 a time. There have been times when I'd have paid £50 to have a smoke and no doubt several £50s will change hands on this basis. I think they should have pitched it slightly cheaper though. £25 per illegal smoke would have had many more takers. Smokers who drop a tab end on our pavements here in Calderdale (or anyone who drops an apple core, or indeed any particle of anything, accidentally or on purpose) are subject to a £50 fixed penalty fine also.
In our local town centre the number of parking spaces have been reduced and the parking fee has doubled. There is a traffic warden and a street warden on every street corner coiled and ready to pounce on offenders. Yesterday I had to spend 10 minutes (and a significant contribution towards highway pollution and fuel tax) getting my car fully into the slightly-too-small marked space, because to err by an inch would have rendered me liable to a fine. One then runs to the parking meter (cunningly sited around the corner) and back to one's car in a race with the traffic warden, with both of you trying to get your ticket there first. If you can't run: tough. £50 please.
Oh and the fines are going up next year to fund the glossy brochure we're sending you all to remind you of your responsibilities as citizens, our new hand-held computers, centrally heated flourescent jackets and our Christmas knees-up. Not to mention the recruitment drive for new traffic wardens and the billboard posters we're taking out telling you all how much you need us "so that the ambulance can get through". (Model: female, asian, attractive and SLIM, big friendly smile.)
So town is an increasingly risky place to visit for smokers, drivers and anyone who consumes anything and might accidentally drop anything on the floor. Getting to town is also subject to rising costs. Bus and train fares are now largely unaffordable by my teens, who walk everywhere they can to save cash. Road tax is going up for many vehicles, petrol costs are rising and congestion fees are being implemented. The approach into town is indeed congested, but mainly by traffic wardens and traffic calming measures.
Have you noticed how much more slowly our town centre traffic lights are changing now? There's one in Huddersfield that goes green for about 5 seconds every 3 minutes. It's on a major route into town. You have to queue there even at 2am in the morning when the streets are deserted. Three years ago the junction didn't even need a traffic light: it worked perfectly well without one. Indeed, nowadays every town centre junction has traffic lights and the associated 'safety camera', which term makes me chuckle every time I see it. Bill for stopping one inch the wrong side of the line, whether you could help it or not? £50 please. Kerching!
So what with needing to have large amounts of disposable income to venture into town, and spare time and patience to negotiate the obstacles (including exiled smokers and increasing numbers of drunks and drug addicts who have given up trying to cope with all this and hordes of annoyed, grumpy, miserable people who are still trying to cope with all this but doing so with understandable bad grace) and run the gauntlet of officers in bright yellow coats ready to pounce.. it all begs the question: why would you bother?
Is it not all likely to be counter-productive? I thought politicians and businessmen liked town centres! But at this rate people will just stay at home or have illegal smoking, parking and litter raves in abandoned warehouses. Soon our town centres will be like ghost towns where the only occasional movement is the flicking to green and back to red of the millions of traffic lights, the eerie whirring of the CCTV and the 'safety' cameras (chortle) and the nervous twitching of tightly-coiled wardens-for-everything gathered on the street corners. The occasional shopper or office-worker will be stalked like prey in the kind of shoot-out environment they had in the old Westerns my grandad used to watch.
I'm starting to wonder whether the intention is for us all to stay at home and do all our work, learning and shopping online. Maybe we're easier to monitor that way, and taxing computer usage would be dead easy.
At least people would get more value for money out of their increasingly expensive homes and council taxes. We wouldn't need cars. We could use all that saved traveling and warden-dodging time growing our own organic vegetables and medicines in the garden. It might be very good for us: very safe, healthy, peaceful and calming. The ideal environment in which to stop smoking.