Earlier this year I met someone who works for a ‘tobacco addiction group’.

That’s not a group of smokers getting together for high tea, rather the opposite.

This person works in Oxford in an organisation which is part of or affiliated with the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences in the Medical Sciences Division.

I asked her why she was working there, and she responded by saying what a strange question that was. She then replied, ‘I want to help people’.

I said that was a strange response, considering how many smokers have been hindered rather than helped by the likes of her and everyone else in Tobacco Control.

Before I get into detail, my British readers will be wondering if this woman has ever met Debs Arnott from ASH. No, she hasn’t but has ‘heard of her’.

This woman really does live in a bubble along with the rest of her colleagues not only in Oxford but around the world. She said:

  • Smokers were free to smoke — no one was stopping them;
  • She did not feel that enough smokers knew tobacco and nicotine were harmful;
  • She has not seen the graphic made-up or otherwise falsified (e.g. neck tumour) photos on cigarette packets: ‘Why would I look at those?’;
  • She did not know about the meme — see cigarette packets — that male fertility and libido are supposedly harmed by tobacco; never mind that when smoking was at its peak we had the Baby Boom;
  • She did not know that rented accommodation in the UK is nearly all non-smoking and has been for nearly 15 years;
  • She is happy that all UK hotel rooms are non-smoking;
  • She doubted whether much-touted smoking-cessation prescription drugs caused suicide or depression;
  • She is delighted with the 2007 smoking ban in England;
  • She thinks smokers are clogging up the NHS;
  • She supports the introduction of plain packaging;
  • My better half and I were seen as being okay to smoke because we are ‘educated’ and ‘understand the risks involved’.

We discussed everything point by point. Please interpret ‘discussed’ loosely, as outside of what I’ve just written in bullet points, she had very little to say. I did most of the talking and told her frankly yet politely how wrong she and her ilk were:

  • It’s difficult to smoke anywhere now in the UK unless you own your own home; even then, you hardly dare to smoke outdoors unless you are 100% sure your neighbours are okay with it (think of the children!);
  • London’s powers that be have suggested that the capital’s public parks be ‘smoke free’; renters thinking of stepping out for a crafty gasper will have many fewer places to go if a local law eventually goes through;
  • I asked her if she had considered the employment discrimination against smokers — she hadn’t;
  • I asked her if it was right for an aged old soldier to have to stand outside a private club to have a smoke — she hadn’t thought about it but agreed I had a point;
  • I asked if she had thought about all the lost friendships and vanished camaraderie the smoking ban brought, especially to the elderly — she hadn’t;
  • We are sick and tired of being constantly portrayed as selfish, inconsiderate, morally derelict, stinky, generally disagreeable and that people we meet are surprised to discover we smoke — as was she;
  • I explained that the shocking cigarette packet photos are fake and told her that lungs inside a dead smoker are pink;
  • I told her that most smokers will never get lung cancer, die grisly deaths in hospital and that a fair number of us are on track to see to see our 100th birthday.

I didn’t go on to ask if she favoured dope smoking or hard drugs over cigarettes. There’s a simple reason for that; she couldn’t — or wouldn’t — respond much beyond saying, ‘No, that’s not true’ and ‘Mmm’. She was remarkably tight-lipped.

Overall, she seemed really stunned to be confronted by — gasp — a smoker.

There were a few more things which bear elaboration.

Considering that smokers pay so much in sin tax, I told her that we resented paying her and Tobacco Control’s salaries only to be endlessly harassed and preyed upon — audibly (televisual nagging), emotionally and financially.

She told me I was wrong: how could my better half and I possibly pay her salary when the government contributed to it. I asked her how the government gets its money. She said nothing. This woman went to one of the world’s top universities and does not understand that simple point? Perhaps she does now.

I said that if she really wanted to help people, she really should go into another line of work. I asked her once again, ‘Why smoking?’ All she could say was, ‘I really want to help people.’

At that point, I gave up.

This was a social occasion at a top London venue, incidentally. We were near the main refreshments table. When I turned around, the catering staff had been listening intently. For a moment, it seemed as if they were going to burst into applause.

I said what I had to say. It has been bubbling up for nearly 20 years.

And now, it’s off my chest and my bucket list! Happy days!

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