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NTU Sustainability in Enterprise

The 2007 Smoking Ban

24 June 07 words: Ian Kingsbury

The cigarette, the 'oily rag', the 'coffin nail'. The suffusion of pleasure and relief as you take that first draw...

The cigarette, the 'oily rag', the 'coffin nail'. The suffusion of pleasure and relief as you take that first draw, and then the anoxic head rush as the nicotine hurtles brain-ward and the carbon monoxide hijacks red blood cells like a mob of microscopic car thieves (I have a 2:2 bachelors degree in simile and metaphor).

Yet it can hardly have escaped your notice that, come 1 July, England will follow the rest of the UK in banning smoking in public places. Of course, smoking is already widely proscribed in public, most obviously buses, theatres, cinemas and workplaces - so it will be pubs, nightclubs and restaurants that will feel the brunt of the ban. There are myriad reasons why we smoke; pleasure, addiction, habit or self-medication, but is the ban a move in the right direction and will it really change the habit of a lifetime?

The idea of a blanket ban on smoking in public places generally elicits one of two reactions: the ‘bloody nanny state’ diatribe or the ‘well, it’ll be a great opportunity to give up’ shrug of stoicism. Ideally, the role of Government should be to protect us from each other and not from ourselves, but most of us smokers want to give up and are secretly quite chuffed that the ban will force us to cut down. If you’re a social smoker like me, you can also look forward to restoring some of the respect and love eroded by your years of tab-scrounging. Besides, there are alternatives… why not slap a couple of nicotine patches on before you go out, or take to snuff? Then again, if you’re really serious about using the ban to give up, you could always do a Kojak and occupy your gut-portal with a succession of lollipops.

One way of easing yourself into the ban would be to start drinking in existing non-smoking establishments like the Keane’s Head, the Vat and Fiddle, any Weatherspoon pub or the Broadway. In terms of the impact the ban will have on me, I couldn’t give a jet-propelled guff. I was in Edinburgh last summer for the Festival and I hardly noticed the inconvenience of having to skulk out for a smoke. I do worry about the effect a total ban might have on live music. If smokers (and I’m not referring to real music lovers here, more the passing footfall trade) are forced outside, will it mean they’re less inclined to go and see indoor gigs?

The history of tobacco manufacture is intimately linked with the social and economic history of Nottingham thanks to a chap named John Player who founded his tobacco company here in the mid-nineteenth Century. Having built the Castle Tobacco Factories in Radford in 1883, his operations soon expanded into a thriving cigarette manufactory. Despite having to merge in response to competitive threats from the USA in 1901, Player’s cigarettes retained their distinctive logo of a smoking sailor in a Navy Cut cap. In his 1906 book The Illustrated Handbook to Nottingham, the deliciously named Lemon Lingwood wrote of the John Player’s factory:

‘The Castle Tobacco Factory plays a conspicuous part in the commercial enterprise of Nottingham, and some 1,600 people find happy and profitable employment within its walls. The total area of the premises…is upwards of seven acres…It is the second largest building of its kind in the Kingdom.’

The new Horizon factory was opened in the early 1970s on Nottingham’s industrial outskirts, ironically enough next door to the Boots headquarters, a company devoted to improving health. The old factories in Radford were gradually allowed to wind down and the final demolition of the No.3 Factory, famed for its distinctive clock and rooftop John Player & Sons sign, eventually came in the late 1980s. Player’s is still in existence, albeit with a much reduced workforce of around 700, but it’s no longer one of the big three employers in Nottingham (the other two being Boots and Raleigh).

From history to health. Of all the pop-science facts circulating about smoking, the two most oft-quoted are the old ‘each fag takes five minutes off your life’ chestnut and that a cigarette contains over 400 chemicals, including ammonia, hydrogen cyanide and toxic trace metals such as lead and arsenic. The fact remains that the smoking ban encompasses two major debates, one on health and the other on civil liberties, but if we accept that the right to smoke argument is pretty tenuous, particularly bearing in mind the passive smoking issue, then any legislative measures including tax hikes and bans on public smoking, are surely all to the good? Recent estimates suggest that one fifth (around 114,000) of all annual UK deaths are due to smoking-related illnesses. Compare that with the 3,500 who die in traffic accidents and the 5,000 deaths from alcoholic liver disease and the scale of smoking-related health risks becomes apparent. You could say that smoking has grave implications…

There was a time when smoking was widely considered to be, if not healthy, then at least a legitimate form of self-medication. Cigarette companies in the nineteenth century advertised the perceived benefits of smoking, which included providing a lift or a moment of relaxation and powers of superior concentration with the happy side-effect of a reduced appetite. Hinting at the calming effects of smoking, one audacious piece of tobacco sloganeering proclaimed ‘Lung Surgeons Need Strong Nerves’. Even recent research (probably funded by tobacco companies) suggests that nicotine can help to prevent degenerative neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s - although there are surely better methods of taking it than via the noxious effluvium of a ciggie.

Aside from questions of civil liberties, health implications and knock-on effects for pubs and clubs, the ban is now an unassailable reality which we will just have to put in our pipes and smoke. If you still consider it a gross affront to your rights, just spare a thought for the nation’s long-suffering pub dogs. At least now they’ll live long enough to go completely deaf from night after night of pub rock bands.

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