FORGIVE ME, but I’m writing this pissed. I didn’t mean to get drunk; after all, it’s only nine in the morning. But I went into the wee shop at the end of the road to get some milk and I saw a packet of Marlboro Lights behind the counter, and I’m not a smoker or anything, but fuck it, that gold and white livery just looks so damn "fine", and before long I was sucking for dear life like Sally Bercow back home after a week in the Big Brother House, and it was great but it parched my throat a little, and there was a bottle of gin on display, and I thought I’d have a quick drink since it’s only £7.99 a litre for the cheap stuff, and then I decided to have just one more for the road, and next thing you know I was lying on the ground covered in fag ash, singing the theme tune from The Banana Splits and fumbling to unhook Mrs Kumar’s bra. I blame the Government.
The alert reader will have spotted that the paragraph above is cutting-edge political satire which bears only a faint relationship to reality (except for the bit about Mrs Kumar).
Yet listening to the damp-palmed timeservers who run the country, you would think that this describes everyday life in this great nation of ours. We’re familiar by now with all the arguments they have deployed to justify introducing minimum pricing for alcohol, driving the expense of that simple quotidian pleasure ever higher - except in the bars of the Palace of Westminster, of course, where taxpayers continue to subsidise the cost of MPs’ pints despite the copious evidence that they cannot handle their booze without starting punch-ups or shagging their secretaries, just like the rest of us.
If you’re anything like me you will, I suspect, have long since become desensitised to those hectoring billboards warning you to take the stairs or cut back on the chips, yet still they festoon our streets. Who can forget the £2.5m campaign by the Scottish Executive to get us to wash our hands – certainly not a skill in which Scottish Executive ministers have ever been notably lacking - or the European Commission’s long overdue ban on mercury barometers, introduced in 2007 as a response to a global epidemic of deaths from cracking open mercury barometers and drinking the contents which the world’s newspapers unaccountably elected not to write stories about.
Yet still the assault on reason continues. The latest wheeze, if that’s not a poor choice of words, is a “consultation” – I use the word advisedly - by the Department of Health on the merits or otherwise of plain packaging for tobacco products. Under these plans, cigarettes could be sold only in plain packaging without logos or identifying marks of any kind; apparently the bright primary colours attract children and adults who otherwise wouldn’t dream of going near them, though I can’t help noticing that it doesn’t seem to work with Scottish people and fruit salads. The government’s claim to have an open mind on the consultation is rather undermined by the BBC’s observation that “packets are likely to be a dark olive green” – a remarkable prediction given that the consultation ended only yesterday – and Andrew Lansley’s comments at the launch of the consultation that he wanted tobacco companies to have “no business” in the UK, and that “we no longer see smoking as a part of life” which, taken together, suggest that the result of this sham “consultation” is pre-ordained, and that while it may or may not involve plain packaging in shops, we are clearly being softened up for yet more draconian restrictions on our right as free-born citizens to eat, drink and smoke whatever the hell we want without interference from overpromoted pricks like Andrew Lansley.
These “consultations” are, of course, farcical. Anyone who has seen such consultation documents will immediately have been struck by the list of organisations, professional bodies, lobbying groups and charities to whom they are marked for circulation; almost without exception, they are state-supported puppet bodies signed up to the government’s agenda of the day, whatever it happens to be. These “consultations” are merely taxpayer-funded echo-chambers; you and I are but impotent witnesses, peering in from the outside like smokers in the rain, while we pay for the various arms and emanations of the state to talk to each other about the best way to fuck us up a bit more. (For more on this, I recommend the Institute of Economic Affairs’ magisterial report on the subject, “Sock Puppets: How the Government Lobbies Itself and Why”, by the tireless Christopher Snowdon.)
Nor can we rely on the media for much help exposing the hollowness of the structures that govern us: the transparently partisan reporting on the story from the BBC, official broadcasting partner of the nanny state-health fascist complex, was enlivened by an unintentionally amusing section towards the end where it carefully prefaced comments by Forest’s Simon Clark with the disclaimer “a lobby group funded by the tobacco industry”, immediately after running a scare-quote from the Chief Executive of what was described merely as “campaign group Ash”. I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you who funds Ash.
I am not a smoker. The first time I had an asthma attack was after a particularly smoke-filled birthday party in a long-gone student flat. These days, I am more careful; I carry my inhaler, open windows to let people puff away, avoid or ration my time in excessively smoky atmospheres. What I don’t do, and will never do, is tell other people how to run their damn lives, nor treat them like bloody children, nor give my backing or blessing to joyless, interfering busybodies who mistake pointless bansturbation for statesmanship. If there’s anything more loathsome than the smell of stale cigarettes, it’s the stench of hypocrisy and cant.
Can’t we have a ban on that?