About twenty years ago, there was a play on Radio 4. It was a satire about a near future UK in which smoking had been outlawed and the remaining smokers had been driven from society into the hills of Scotland (or it might have been Wales) and were desperately eking out their last packs of Marlboro.
We laughed at the time (it was pretty funny) and thought it was an interesting idea, but it could never happen. Could it?
And yet today the Scottish Parliament voted to ban smoking in enclosed areas; Liverpool is making a legal bid to become smoke-free; Ireland and New York already are and Manchester is looking to follow suit.
You can argue the rights and rights of this till the cows come home. Illiberal legislation and the “because we say so” politicians? Or the individual’s right to earn a living without risking their health?
But there are two more fundamental issues which concern the impact a smoking ban might have. One, the tax on cigarettes far outweighs the cost of smoking to the health service. Who fills that fiscal gap? I guess we all will.
Second, if the aim of smoke-free is to persuade more people to give up the weed, then more people will live longer. And how does that help the pensions crisis?
Was it Yes Minister or Yes Prime Minister in which Sir Humphrey described smokers as patriotic citizens laying down their lives for the greater good of the many? It seems we want smokers to continue being smokers because of the tax they pay, but we’d rather they did it somewhere else.
As the play had it, shunned and scorned, counting their last fags, in the hills and mountains of Scotland. Or was it Wales.