As the one-year anniversary of England’s celebrated Smoke Free policy approaches, Antonia Shaw pens a love-letter to the one filthy addiction she just can’t give up.
I often engage in romantic nostalgia – memories of being propped up at a bar, sipping a drink, my fingers curled around a cigarette. It seems an age since smokers were permitted to enjoy themselves comfortably indoors. Yet, unbelievably, England’s Smoke Free policy will only be celebrating its one-year anniversary on July 1.
I can clearly remember the eve of the smoking ban. As a seasoned smoker, I had pledged to spend that night on the town consuming as many cigarettes as I physically could, cursing the forthcoming ban between long drags. I worked my way through a 20 pack and came home reeking of smoke. I awoke the next morning with a sore throat and chesty cough, nonetheless resenting the ban that would irrevocably force me to alter my smoking habits. Never again would I be able to smoke in a public space.
I am more than aware that my unenthusiastic views of the smoking ban place me in a minority. Considering less than a fifth of adults smoke, I’m even marginalised amongst my fellow addicts as, according to government statistics, 77% of people agreed with England adopting a smoke-free policy. Conversing with many of our campus population, it is easy to feel entirely on my own. Madeleine Adams, a second year English student, doesn’t “disagree with the smoking ban but [I disagree] with the fact that smoking is not illegal… either go the whole hog and ban it, or don’t.”
In York, smokers and non-smokers alike have strongly supported the ban. Steve Adamthwaite, Principle Environmental Health Officer for York City Council (incidentally a graduate from the University), proudly stated, “The smoking ban has run very smoothly. It has proved to be largely self-regulatory, the public have really taken it on board and there have been very few contraventions of the law. There were initially problems with signage in businesses and issues with smoking shelters not complying with regulations. There have been some problems with taxi drivers and van drivers and action was enforced. But overall it has proved to be very successful… the public are so keen on the idea. It has created a litter problem in some areas and outside certain business but the council has tried to put outdoor ashtrays in these locations.”
It’s hardly surprising that Smoke Free England has attracted such public backing. It is impossible to be unaware that smoking is bad for your health. We are constantly bombarded with adverts attempting to persuade smokers to quit and articles citing the dangers of smoking accompanied by “shocking” statistics. One of the key arguments for the ban, the dangers of passive smoking, don’t go unmentioned either. Apparently, my lovely cigarette smoke emits 4000 chemicals into the atmosphere, including the highly poisonous carbon monoxide. My dirty habit infects the clean lungs of the righteous, increasing the passive smokers’ risk of contracting lung cancer and heart disease by approximately 25%. Just 30 minutes of secondary smoke can cause reduced coronary blood flow.
Despite my hatred of the smoking ban, I can’t help but feel guilty that my choice of lifestyle had affected passive smokers to such a horrendous extent. Sam Thomlison, a non-smoking philosophy student, said, “I enjoy going to pubs a lot more, and it’s a more pleasant experience. I hated breathing in all the smoke when I was there.”
Non-smokers are not the only ones who reap the benefits from the ban. Although I find the imposition incredibly irritating, I am the first to admit that it’s lovely to leave a pub without smelling like an ashtray. Fellow smoker Sam Mammolott told me, “the first few weeks of not being able to smoke in the clubs was somewhat annoying – but at the same time obviously I appreciated why the ban came in. And it’s quite nice not to be in an environment where it’s all smokey.” The ban has also helped smokers ditch their habit. 78% of smokers have attempted to give up since the ban, 72% would rather they didn’t smoke and the overall number of smokers has dropped by 5% in the last 10 years. Former smoker, Ben Ridgeway “found it much much easier to give up [since the smoking ban came in].” I have dabbled in quitting myself, both prior to the ban and after. The last time I tried to kick the cravings was last Christmas. I managed to go without nicotine for three months. It definitely helped that temptation was removed/lessened when socialising. Ultimately, however, the draw of the drag was too much for me.
As a first year I have only experienced a smoke-free York. I have heard fairytales of smoking in halls and Vanbrugh Bar. Edward Fisher, a second year student, told me “Smoking in Vanbrugh Bar was beautiful… your nice fair-trade coffee and your not so fair-trade cigarette – they didn’t make a film called Coffee and Cigarettes for nothing.” However, Ridgeway does not have such idyllic memories. “Vanbrugh Bar was terrible. People used to go there just to smoke. It was really, really smoky and at lunchtimes, when people were eating, it was a problem.”
Buzz Palmer, head of campus events security service Doorsafe, tells me: “We tend to have a particular area for people to smoke and you’d be surprised at the small number of people going out. It makes me wonder if more people have quit due to the smoking ban… It has actually helped us because [the smokers] have gone outside, they’ve talked and they’ve sobered up a bit which is always a good thing as they’re less likely to cause any trouble. And it’s a nicer environment to work in without the smoke.” Ridgeway has worked in The Old Starre Inn since before the ban came into action, and tells me that it now has a more pleasant atmosphere. “For someone working there it’s a lot easier. I used to come home after a Saturday night really smelly, and even back when I was a smoker, when other people are smoking around you for six or seven hours it really gets in your face. People were never allowed to smoke at the bar but it never really made that much difference.”
Ridgeway feels that there are teething problems with the ban. “Currently, in the beer gardens, for some silly reason, we don’t seem to put ashtrays out. It’s all part of that discouragement tactic I think, but there are fag butts and cigarette packets all over the place. It has definitely gotten worse since the smoking ban. We also have a non-smoking beer garden, which people are very surprised at. Some people find it absolutely ludicrous. It’s crazy.”
Smoking on a night out is definitely problematic. Scrambling through the hordes in Ziggy’s, losing your friends inside, and catching pneumonia whilst curbing your cravings in the rain. Madeleline Adams, a second year, says, “it’s alright on campus because there are lots of places outside to sit. Its more annoying if you’re out in town.” Palmer acknowledges that, “In town, big clubs have struggled a little way to come to terms with the smoking ban. On the main road outside Gallery, you have twenty or thirty people having a cigarette with a busy road in front of them and it wasn’t ideal, though of course that has been rectified now [with a small smoking area to the back of the club].” That said, the relegated smokers often bond during their enforced torment. It’s the perfect place to chat, flirt (or ‘smirt’, as this new phenomenon has been named) and meet new people, given that you not only share a common bond but can actually hear each other’s drunken attempts at seduction.
Whilst England may have gone Smoke Free, my fellow addicts and I still can’t quite bring ourselves to do it. I shall just have to accept that on a night out, my perfectly coiffed hair will be ruined, my mascara will run and I will die of pneumonia; all for my unconditional love of my little nicotine stick.