I consider myself a liberal, tolerant guy, but I’ll happily admit to being heavily prejudiced against one group of people – smokers.
I will never understand why somebody would choose to smell musty, waste thousands of pounds each year and, of course, kill themselves in the process.
But it is the anti-social nature of their habit which has made me so intolerant.
This is why I believe the Labour government’s greatest legacy is the smoking ban inside buildings such as pubs.
It makes going out at night – or enjoying a pub lunch with the family – so much more pleasant when you don’t have to smell like an ashtray. Studies have shown it has cut smoking rates and reduced tobacco-related diseases.
And it’s not had the disastrous impact on the pub industry predicted by the ban’s opponents – from my experience it can be difficult finding a seat in Aylesbury’s packed pubs at a weekend.
With that battle won, the war against smoking now needs to move outdoors – and I was pleased this week to see our councils’ looking to prohibit smoking in parks.
But what about elsewhere? Smokers are a constant nuisance at town centre events, such as Hobble on the Cobbles, fireworks night and the Christmas light switch-on.
As I’m huddled in the middle of the large crowds enjoying the show with my family, some bright spark right in front of us will inevitably decide to light up, their poisonous fumes wafting over my two-year-old daughter (tots tend to be at head height to the cigarettes in people’s hands).
Perhaps I should say something, but I usually just tut under my breath and move away, wary of the potential abuse I’ll receive from the pariah in front of me (the most depressing ones are those who actually have their own kids with them).
It should not have to be like this.
Bucks County Council, which now has responsibility for public health, should work alongside the district council to introduce a town centre smoking ban during big public events, on the grounds of protecting and promoting its residents’ wellbeing. I know such a ban would be tough to police, but it would send out a very positive message to the majority of us who find smoking so distasteful – far from discouraging people to come, I think it would have the opposite effect.
Oh, but what about our human rights, I hear the smoking lobby bleat. ‘We’re a minority too!’
My answer is simple.
Unlike race, gender or sexuality, smoking is a choice – and one which not only harms their health but those around them.
Until we have a situation where not one person is subjected to passive smoking, their ‘persecution’ must continue unabated.
(This comment was first published in The Bucks Herald on Wednesday but has been updated for the online version).
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