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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 August 2005, 11:42 GMT 12:42 UK
Society's final frontier of superiority
We invited readers to submit opinion articles to the BBC Scotland news website. In the first to be published, Jacqueline McKernan, a software engineer from Broxburn, West Lothian, mulls over the ban on smoking in public places.


The Scottish Executive's ban on smoking in public places will come into force next March. All well and good - I haven't smoked for a long time and I'll enjoy visiting smoke-free pubs and restaurants.

And I can think of no reason why bar and restaurant staff shouldn't be protected by the same health and safety rules that protect me in my office. So, great - roll on the ban.

But...just imagine the smug satisfaction of the anti-smokers when this ban takes force. Not the ordinary non-smokers, but the rabid pleasure-killers who can't bear the idea that someone might choose to take a risk that they don't.

Those who think they have the right, not just to have their health protected, but to have their aesthetic preferences catered to as well (perfume gets up a lot of noses too, but we live with it).

No smoking sign in pub
Smoking patterns have changed dramatically over 20 years

Those who sneer at the smokers shivering outside, unable to acknowledge that the puffers are out there purely for the convenience of non-smokers.

It's this lack of graciousness that really rankles - the accommodations smokers make for the health and convenience of non-smokers are myriad.

Twenty years ago you could smoke in cinemas, aeroplanes, buses, pretty much anywhere you wanted.

In my first job you could hardly see across the office through the fug and you quickly learned to smoke with one hand and type with the other.

Piece by piece, smokers have given up every last bit of that territory and almost universally, they've done it with good humour, sacrificing their own comfort for the health of others.

Smokers in Ireland
Who's having fun? The smokers or non-smokers?

The ferocity of the anti-smoking puritans really has nothing to do with health or even with smell. It's the final frontier of social superiority.

It's not polite any more to sneer at people for their class or race - but a whiff of cigarette smoke gives us carte blanche to look down on someone; socially sanctioned disdain.

But beware! Those smug smiles might not last long after March. Once smokers have been driven underground, just who will be left for us to feel righteously superior to?

So that's why, even though I support the ban, I couldn't help feeling a little warm glow when a friend returned from a boozy weekend in Ireland and told me that halfway through the evening the non-smokers found themselves drifting outside to join the smokers - because that's where all the fun seemed to be.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and are not endorsed by the BBC.

Your thoughts on Jacqueline McKernan's article:

I can't wait for the ban to come in! Smokers who are moaning about the ban are selfish, they chose to smoke, they chose to put themselves at a high risk of lung cancer, I chose not to. If I want to socialise with friends I don't see why I should have to inhale the stale smoke from somebody who can only think of themselves. People are arguing over smoking as if they were born with a cigarette in their mouths, we are all intitled to clean air. Also, The Counting House in Glasgow has already become a smoke-free pub and it is mobbed as always... if the pubs are cheap people will drink anywhere regardless of ashtrays on the table or not!
Jenny, Glasgow

The key is having hard scientific data to suport the open moral debate that occurs in a democratic society about the balance between the right to chose and the right to a harm free environment
Ron Leddy
Jacqueline's article is balanced up to a point but strays into the quagmire that has dogged this debate since it began. Smoking illuminates the issues of civil liberties, social responsibilities and governance like no other. Tobacco is woven so tightly into our history that it becomes difficult to unpick the issues it raises now that the health harming effects, proven back in the early 1970's, are irrefutable. Smokers do become addicted, all governments do profit from tax on tobacco products, smoking kills smokers and passive smokers. How do we move forward? Governments still want their revenue but have to be seen to protect everyone's health - hence the adoption of voluntary bans before obligatory bans backed by punative action. Jacqueline mentioned that smokers gave up their freedom to smoke willingly. Not so - the voluntary bans had to be backed up by ever hasher actions against those who chose to ignore them; fines disciplinary action etc. Now we face an outright ban, is this right? Yes, no-one would advocate allowing people to throw asbestos powder around in public spaces for their own enjoyment, but apart from having similar toxicity [some would argue a lower toxicity than cigarette smoke] there is no social similarity with tobacco. Governments have acted to reduce the impact of asbestos on society, not as comprehensively as the victims of asbestos related disease would like, but their actions have been applauded. In years to come their actions on smoking may be received in a similar light. If it does it will be because the needs of smokers have been recognised and handled effectively; the responsibilities of the tobacco manufacturers to society will have been enforced via legislation, such as donating a proportion of their profits to the healthcare system to care for those with smoking related disease and to compensate those harmed by smoking once the link between smoking and advertising is hardened up; and finally once politicians like our own take courageous decisions that the majority support. The key is having hard scientific data to suport the open moral debate that occurs in a democratic society about the balance between the right to chose and the right to a harm free environment. Only then can we force others by legislation to give up doing something they enjoy. It has taken over 30 years to arrive at this point but much has been learned which will be applied in future to similar issues. It could be said we will all be morally superior as a result of handling the smoking issue so well.
Ron Leddy, Bo'ness

Jacqueline seems to imply that smokers are exercising a right to smoke, when in reality their behaviour is driven by addiction and the need to escape withdrawal symptoms. They are not really making choices at all. The point about the legislation is to break the link between social inclusion and addiction so that in future, younger people are less likely to become addicted in the first place. This is important to reduce the impact on life and health in our community so rather than looking down on smokers, we are actually only thinking of their welfare.
Dr John Moore, Moniaive

To Graham from Dunfermline, and all others like him... It seems that most comments miss Jaqueline's point. The truth is not necessarily in the factual content, but the spirit of the writing. This smoking ban is definitely here in part to satisfy a self-righteous and pious group who wish to exert their will on others and Jaqueline cleverly makes them analogous to smokers subjecting others to their smoke. What many people fail to understand is that smoking is not just a depraved addiction, or if not, only taken up under the wicked influence of alchohol. Some people actually like it. I go to the gym three times a week, play football and box but I still enjoy a cigarette. How many people in favour of the ban are actually setting an example by looking after themselves? But they are more than willing to judge others. And if a cigarrette is just fulfilling the need for a 'fix', what does a beer do exactly? Why not ban alchohol while we're at it? This is the same group of overly-opininated pontifs who keep drugs illegal and therefore uncontrolled. The ban is, though, a good idea, because it is wrong to make others breathe my smoke. I accept that. But I do not believe that the motives behind the ban are so plain. And to ask a question to Graham from Dunfermline, when has a smoker ever lived in a crack-house and robbed grandmothers to feed his filthy habit? You made a totally ignorant and downright rude comment. The problem with heroin is not the drug, but its impact on people's lives. Heroin can destroy a man's soul, making him unable to see that mugging, stealing, and dealing are all wrong. Cigarettes can't. Simple.
Patrick, Aberdeen

As an ex-smoker I agree totally with Jacqueline. Smokers are an easy target because you can see the problem. It is not so easy with other problems in society. I work in the most polluted street in Scotland, Hope Street, but no-one can see the damage being done to my lungs because of this. Where is the outcry here? It doesn't suit those with a superior attitude to smokers to stop driving their cars or using taxis etc. so I just have to put up with Hope Street or change my job. This is double standards.
Mo, Glasgow,

I am for the ban but found the article is totally wrong. The article says smokers have given spaces where they used to smoke with good humour. Rubbish. How many people do you still see flouting non-smoking areas and when asked to stop or move they become abusive?
Adrian Cannon, Edinburgh

I am in favour of the ban but not how it is being implemented. I am 32 and a smoker since the age of 18. I am also trying to stop smoking at the present moment, for the second time using patches. Smokers are addicts - I am married with children therefore I do not smoke in the home or in front of my children while driving, i know the detrimental effects this could have on them and I don't see why they should smell of smoke. I smoke outside in the back garden, last winter i was out there with two jumpers, a scarf and a thick coat and one glove to leave my smoking hand free. This is not the action of someone who is smoking just for the hell of it, this is the action of an addict trying to protect his family from his addiction. Sure, ban smoking but don't punish those addicts by making them suffer. Whether it be the from the elements or the stares of by passers watching the outcast smokers standing outside the pubs and clubs. Give them shelter and a place to go, don't look down on them.
Colin Ball, Glenrothes

I whole-heartedly agree with the smoking ban and only wish we did not have to wait until early next year for it to come into force. I recently spent a pleasant evening in a newly-crowned no-smoking pub in Glasgow, and contrary to popular opinion about the demise of the pub industry following the ban, the pub was as busy as it always had been. I have to admit, when a couple started smoking at the table next to me, I did get a sense of satisfaction from being able to say to them that they were not allowed to smoke. After years of having to put up with smoky pubs in order to socialise with my pub-going friends it felt good to finally have the upper hand in the matter! Bring on the ban!
Lorna, Glasgow

Excellent article. It is true smokers have become the new social whipping boy, like the Welsh, the working class, the Pakistani immigrant before them, the socially superior will find someone to fuel their own self-esteem. But let's not get carried away with all these altruistic smokers throwing down their civil rights for us non-smokers' benefit. Most smokers I know are pretty cheesed off at these bans and don't mind castigating the intolerance of non-smokers, in a similar superiority exercise, just different superiority perspectives. I also don't like the smoke on my clothes but I'm also not too keen on a lot of other things that I tolerate. The selfish self inside me is quite glad the ban is coming into force, don't know how they'll introduce it in schools though, it probably breaches some 14-year-old's civil and human rights to stop him smoking.
Rob, Glasgow

Play Russian roulette with your own health, Jacqueline. Don't you dare play it with mine
Kate, London
I work for ASH, one of the so-called "rabid pleasure-killer" organisations and take issue with this article. Ms McKernan doesn't know me or have any idea what my motivations are. For the record, I have no problem with someone who wants to smoke. Do whatever you want to yourself, I really could not care less. But when you start doing it to me, then I have quite a lot to say. And why shouldn't I? Second-hand smoke is not an inconvenience, whatever Ms McKernan wants to believe. It is not just that cigarette smoke smells vile, it is not just that it makes me nauseous, it is not that the smoke makes my throat and eyes hurt. Although, quite frankly, those things alone are enough. It is that breathing in someone else's smoke could kill me. Ms McKernan, like most smokers, may prefer the delusion that smoking is not really dangerous. Make no mistake, they are deluding themselves. The US Environmental Protection Agency rightly classifies second-hand smoke as a Class A carcinogen. Alongside benzene and asbestos. And the late Professor Sir Richard Doll, who first found the link between smoking and lung cancer, said of second-hand smoke: "An hour a day in a room with a smoker is nearly 100 times more likely to cause lung cancer in a non-smoker than 20 years spent in a building containing asbestos". Would Ms McKernan be happy to sit in a room full of asbestos because a minority of the population seemed to think it was fun? It is extraordinary how narrow her definition of "pleasure" is. Play Russian roulette with your own health, Jacqueline. Don't you dare play it with mine.
Kate, London, UK

If Colin from Glasgow thinks he's a non-smoker and always has been, then he has obviously never spent any time in a Glasgow pub! When one person lights up, everyone in the place becomes a smoker. As an ex-smoker I am totally for the ban. I'm not superior, just healthier, slightly wealthier and I don't stink.
Alan Barr, Glasgow

It has absolutely nothing to do with social superiority and everything that Jacqueline McKernan claims it has nothing to do. I don't want to end up stinking of smoke every time I walk through the smoking area of a restaurant to go to the bathroom. I do want to go to a pub and not have to breath that filth in. I've not actually gone to a pub in years because of the smoke but will probably go back when the ban is in effect.
Brian, Aberdeen

I'm more worried about the effects on rural pubs. When the only pub in my village loses, say, 20% of its custom and closes, 100% of the village suffers. Still, given the sort of tiny-minded humourless puritans who inhabit the Scottish Parliament, they'd probably be happier if people sat at home alone and drank.
Scott, Borders

An infantile immature rant that misses the point entirely. Smoking doesn't just get up people's nose (literally), it can physically make you uncomfortable, ask any asthmatic or anyone with respiratory problems. It inflicts a direct unwanted health risk and discomfort on those around them. To take a ludicrous extreme I don't care if someone shoots up heroin right next to me, it doesn't affect MY health, that's their risk, their decision, however if someone lights up a cigarette right next to me I feel physically sick. Please explain to me why that makes me a smug non-smoker, and why their "personal freedoms" outweigh my personal health and comfort.
Greig Smith, Broxburn, West Lothian

After watching my mother die slowly over the last year from lung cancer I can't possibly believe that anyone would use 'social superiority' as an argument for a ban on smoking. I have never smoked, will never smoke, hate smoking and being around people who smoke. I hate seeing people with young kids smoking as they are damaging their kids two-fold, by threatening their children health and also their own health and children's security and future family life. Smokers don't just die of lung cancer, heart disease is a major killer of smokers and tends to hit home younger than cancer. Why should smokers who choose to partake in this vile, lethal, anti social and distasteful habit think that they have the right to inflict the effects of their habit on me. Other bad habits and lifestyles, such as binge drinking and overeating, whilst impacting on other peoples lives (in terms of demand on NHS, alcohol induced violence etc) do not seem to have as big an impact as passive smoking! There's no such things passive drinking!
Louise, South Coast

Many smokers don't really understand the objections of non-smokers. It is not just the smell, taste, and health risk created by smoke, but the disgusting mess it leaves in your hair and clothes. It may seem petty (and smokers like to wave it off as unimportant) but would any smoker tolerate going to a public place and having a foul-smelling coating applied to their clothes and hair by a complete stranger ? I doubt it. The smoking ban may appear to stimulate 'superiority' or smugness but it is just what happens when the rest of us heave a collective sigh of relief.
David Brook, Kilmarnock

As a non-smoker among a group of friends that do smoke, I fail to understand why anyone that supports the ban would have a sense of superiority over smokers. Agreed that some brands of perfume and aftershave are a personal and preferred choice that doesn't appeal to everyone. The point is that such insulting 'fragrances' do not leave the eyes watering and head aching. What's more is that we are not left bearing the scent of the nuisance for hours afterwards. At the end of the day it is a proven and known fact that smoking is directly attributable to many life threatening conditions for smokers and non-smokers alike. Having witnessed (and I'm sure I'm not the only one) the demise in health of close friends and relations either directly or indirectly because of smoking, I fail to see the appeal. Ignorance of the health implications is not for debate in this day and age, by either manufacturers of cigarettes or users - it tells you on the packet that 'Smoking Kills' - surely people are not really that stupid to think that a smoking ban is not good news for ALL involved? In conclusion, as a 26-year-old with a vibrant and busy social diary I have never once heard anyone say that a better night was had outside a pub/club that inside... perhaps it's a vote of sympathetic support to the poor smokers.
Chris, Glasgow

The new law is not a well thought-out one. Surely the simple way forward would be to provide certain non-smoking bars and let people decide where they go for themselves. I am certain that there would be enough landlords willing to operate a non-smoking pub/restaurant. I think smokers are slightly paranoid about being outcasts because generally there are less of them these days and they are more noticeable. Also, people are completely aware that if someone blows smoke in their direction it is affecting their health. Give choice to all, people will always make up their own minds.
Frazer Gillespie, Inverness.

Good point about "perfume gets up a lot of noses too, but we live with it". When will we see a blanket perfume/airborne neurotoxin ban?
Ormungandr Melchizedek, Edinburgh, Scotland

I think your opinion is yours alone as most people would disagree. Smoke and smokers made life difficult to say the least as a kid as I've been an asthmatic nearly all my life. I've had to avoid these people in public and in private life, because it triggers my asthma. I couldn't really care if smokers have to stand outside, what I do care about is that their poison smoke doesn't affect me or any other non smoker who doesn't want to breath it in. Why should the majority have to fit around a group of addicted people? Also your comments about feeling righteously superior..... what are you on? All I care about (which most do) is that I don't die or suffer along with them when they are committing a modern version of bashing there heads with a stone everyday. At lease that way of killing yourself is cheaper.
Peter, Edinburgh

As an ex-smoker and think it is great that the ban may help others to quit. I am not overly righteous but grateful that I am no longer an addict. Next move sales of fags should be banned.
Smokey Jo, Glasgow

If someone's damaging lifestyle choice means that they have to suffer five minutes of minor inconvenience to engage in it outside, rather than cause damage to my lungs in an area that I have an equal right to be in, I am all for their discomfort.
Ben Glasgow, Aberdeen

The smokers aren't outside for my convenience - they're there to feed their addiction. I don't want to be subjected to their habit - at last it has become my freedom to choose, not theirs.
John, Edinburgh

Coming home on holiday will be a lot more pleasant with the ban in place. Those smokers who have behaved and will behave in good grace are to be congratulated - but not thanked. Graham is bang on with his view. I've never smoked but I sympathise with those who have trouble quitting; however I still don't want my clothes and hair to stink or my kids to be kippered. This is not 'convenience' but to do with health and socially acceptable behaviour. Smokers have not 'given up their territory'. They have returned it to the rightful owner. There is no problem with loud music if it doesn't unduly disturb. There is no problem with drinking a bit much if it doesn't result in car crashes and sick on my doorstep. There is no problem with smoking if it is not forced on others. Is a non-smoker superior? No. All other things being equal; their wallet is fuller and their lung volume too, they can stay inside, they won't stink, they'll live on average longer, they will have a higher chance of retaining employment, there will be a lower chance of their children having all sorts of problems. On the other hand you can 'be a laugh' outside the pub because you have a fag in your mouth. Difficult choice... I'll stick to having a laugh inside but I do promise not to laugh AT the ones outside.
Alex, Leidschendam, Netherlands

Laughed when I read about the folk in the Irish Republic who were discovered breaking licensing laws with a "lock in"... This, only because Garda passing in the early hours spotted law-abiding smokers going outside the pub whenever they had a cigarette.
Carolyn, Scotland

Jacqueline hits the nail on the head when she says "who will be left for us to feel righteously superior to?" The problem is, the forces who brought in this ban will always find somebody to feel superior to, and we will have another campaign to remove their 'evil' from society. It's already started with drinking, how far do you think it will go after they remove happy hours, a ban on beer gardens perhaps? 10 years ago nobody would have predicted a smoking ban. (BTW I'm a non-smoker, always have been, and I'm against the ban.)
Colin, Glasgow

When people become non-smokers they often isolate themselves from familiar long-term friendships forged through the habit and this grief may be a part of the 'fun' to be found outside the pub.
Caroline Kennedy, Cumbernauld

This piece would be a lot better if it were backed by some evidence beyond a drunken memory of a weekend in Ireland. As a fellow Scot the author should know that, up here, it's also still quite acceptable to feel righteously superior to anyone brave enough to admit to being a member of the Conservative Party.
Fraser, Glasgow

The smokers were having fun outside because the prohibition of smoking stops them from getting their 'fix' indoors. They weren't having more fun because they were smoking - they were less stressed because they were able to satisfy their addiction outside the bar. Smokers are human beings who are nicotine addicts, nothing more, nothing less. They do not deserve to be sneered at or treated as inferior. If you replace 'smoking' with 'heroin' in your article would it still make sense? (Btw I've been a smoker and am currently a non-smoker and as most ex-smokers start again when they're drinking, especially in a smoky pub, I'm totally for the ban.)
Graham Murray, Dunfermline, Fife.

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