Nicholas Lezard: The country is turning into a Gestapo khazi

The seven years of life lost on average by smoking are not the best ones

Related Topics

I only saw the headline on yesterday's front page of The Times, but the information it imparted was enough, I feel, to give everyone the gist: apparently doctors now want to make it punishable by law to smoke in a car. It's apparently about protecting children.

There is a "Derek and Clive" sketch when Peter Cook, telling how he has been pulled over by the police for running someone over while being incredibly drunk, describes the country as turning into "a Gestapo khazi". It's a very funny line, precisely because his indignation is so misplaced, but now I wonder – and remember Adolf Hitler's hatred of smoking – is this, perhaps, another one of those little steps (detention without trial, untrammelled surveillance of private correspondence, more CCTVs per person of any country on earth) which really are turning this country into a toilet supervised and controlled by the police?

I remember when my father, in the days when he still smoked, would light up in the car; I recall the comforting smell of the second-hand smoke. I'm not even sure he opened the window. I didn't mind in the slightest. It didn't occur to me to mind. And neither, now I think about it, did my clothes smell of smoke afterwards. In fact, I don't think anyone's clothes smelled of smoke until people started complaining about it. The smell of smoke on clothes is only really detectable by the kind of people who go around sniffing clothes to see if they smell of smoke. I am reminded, by a circuitous thought process, of the women who praised Samuel Johnson for not including any rude words in his dictionary. His response was magisterially wise: they shouldn't have been looking for them in the first place.

Now, I do understand that it is distressing to see a car packed with children while the grown-ups are smoking in the front, and I would never smoke in the car with my own children in it. The dangers of passive smoking may well be exaggerated but I am happy to err on the side of caution with this one. I am, too, very glad my father stopped smoking – it has almost certainly extended his life. I am also glad that he was able to smoke in the first place, and to give up, without hectoring or bullying to do so, from sheer will-power. I smoke; and I, too, look forward to giving up in the same way, in a few years.

But when doctors, a significant proportion of whose salary comes from taxes raised by smokers, decide that it is better to lecture us than to cure us – it's as if what they're really clamouring for is not so much an ending to suffering as a reduction in their workload – then my libertarian hackles rise. And I am reminded of the main character Martin Amis's latest novel who points out that the seven years of life lost, on average, by smoking, are not actually the best ones.

But egging Government on to stop people smoking in their own cars – well, as an attention-grabber, it has certainly worked. As a means of making the health lobby look reasonable and fair-minded, it has backfired. I've smoked three indignant, rebellious cigarettes writing this piece, and I've never enjoyed them so much.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
India's philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco feminist Vandana Shiva arrives to give a press conference focused on genetically modified seeds on October 10, 2012  

Meet Vandana Shiva: The deserving heir to Mahatma Ghandi's legacy

Peter Popham
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home