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Orange glow

18 July 2015

9:00 AM

18 July 2015

9:00 AM

I’ve been having a good think about King Billy and the Glorious Revolution. Well, I’ve been trying—my brain is a bit foggy. The NSW smoking ban went into effect this morning, so I haven’t had my usual breakfast of eggs, black coffee and half a dozen cigarettes at the café down the road from my office at Quadrant.

The Battle of the Boyne was a decisive one in the Williamite War, where William III routed James VII as he fought to reclaim Ireland after his deposition in the Glorious Revolution. The Williamites’ victory was about as un-sexy as the Magna Carta. The ‘Bloodless Revolution’ was quintessentially English: staid, moderate, and no longer than absolutely necessary. It was more a concretizing of gradual developments than a flight into ideological fancy, as Burke would have it. Symbolically important, yes; but not driving home a much bigger point than, ‘Things are more or less the same as before and everyone’s going to be fine.’ Parliament’s supremacy was assured, effectual limits were placed on royal power, and the established Church of England was to remain established. And most tiresome of all, there were no casualties, no epic battles to commemorate in art and song. Conservatives have gotten used to our great victories being somewhat less than electrifying.

It seems to me, in this nicotine-less haze, that the recently implemented NSW smoking ban is something of an Inglorious Revolution unto itself: an almost imperceptible retreat from our traditional liberties, but one with serious symbolic consequences.

I’m going to hazard an uneducated guess and say that no one has died or fallen seriously ill from second-hand smoke in the outdoor dining area of a bar or café—anywhere, ever. From being shut up in a car as a child with Dad while he smoked, sure; but that’s been illegal for six years. From Mum smoking in the house with all the windows closed, sure; but I think the Baird government would find it difficult to illegalize some otherwise legal habit only in one’s home. We’ll have to wait for the inevitable ban on all tobacco products for that one. On the other hand, the odds of your child contracting emphysema from an admittedly grotesque whiff of JPS while waiting for your caramel macchiato and grilled veggie panini seem rather slim. (I can only assume we’re thinking of the children here. Adults can’t possibly be worried about developing black lung from a pub lunch, can they? We can’t be that wussified, can we?)

But we all know that’s not really the point, don’t we? The new laws aren’t meant to help non-smokers, they’re meant to punish and humiliate smokers. It’s like climate change lite. Now the Liberals can have the glory of saying they’ve carried on the Carr government’s work of translating pop sci-ence verbatim into sweeping public policy initiatives, without losing their credibility as defenders of Big Pollution. It’s a win-win!

Well, for the Liberals, at least. I’d wager the beautiful smoking porch at Parliament House will stay open. It’s a definite loss for the tradie who likes to round off a calorific lunch with a relaxing smoke before getting back to the job, and the white-collar knobs like me who prefer to work through their midday break with a sandwich, a laptop, and an invigorating cigarette to get the juices flowing. Do we need that cigarette? No, I guess not. Would we be better off without it? Yes, certainly. But does anyone really care what’s good for us?

No, of course you don’t. You love to hate smokers. We’re the last minority that’s totally exempt from political correctness. Imagine if everyone talked to crack addicts the way they do smokers: ‘You do know it’s bad for you, don’t you?’ ‘Ugh, you reek of cat piss!’ ‘I don’t think I could ever date a junkie.’ That would just be nasty, wouldn’t it? Yet you act like it’s some kind of public service announcement when you say it to us, as though it’s your civic duty to shame people out of their bad habits. At least be honest with yourself, dear reader: being an anti-smoker is like being pro-gay marriage. You can get an arseload of free PC tokens, and all you have to do is turn up.

So I don’t think the Baird government will be stubbing us out anytime soon. Who would you leer and jeer at then? Better to just relegate us to the margins of all polite establishments, so the civilized world can scoff as the Unsmellables huddle on the street corner for a quick fix.

Yet I can’t help wondering, is this what the Williamites died for? Well, not died exactly… Is this what the Williamites made such a bother for? In the absence of any power to ban unenlightened lifestyles, do we assume the power to marginalize and publicly shame them? Who the hell knows anymore. I need a smoke.

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