Like most people with bitter experience of the wide gap between legislation and behavioural change, I doubted that the ban on smoking in public places would prove to be anything more than another well-meaning government initiative that would be swiftly circumvented by the hapless slaves to nicotine.
I also genuinely doubted that the law would be enforceable and imagined scenes of chaos at my branch of the Royal British Legion. I suppose that as a 50-a-day man I was hardly an objective witness, but the whole debate seemed to smack of good intentions unmatched by attainable public support.
During the debate in February 2006 I drew deep, if not on my Senior Service, on the experiences that I had had in Dublin, where a ban had been introduced and the immediately visible consequence was a cordon insanitaire of patio heaters outside every pub in Temple Bar and a concentrated fug of Sweet Afton that was almost a tangible barrier to entry.
I'll admit that there was a bit of the Jeremy Clarkson in my protest as the anti-smokers were, in the main, a po-faced bunch who seemed bent on banning tobacco smoking as the first step on a prohibitive road.
Having said that, the Freedom for Fagsmokers crews were well staffed by moon-howlers who seemed to want to do away with speed limits and any drugs control. Two people did make a sane and sensible contribution to the debate within and without the chamber. Deborah Arnott of ASH was calm and realistic, and Dr Richard Taylor, the independent MP for the Wyre Forest, was scarily scientific in his description of the foul chemical-sodden composition of what I had thought was sun-dried organic Virginia tobacco.
Still, I voted against the ban and withdrew to the smoky hellhole that was then my office for a restorative gasper.
Suddenly it just didn't seem quite so cool to dice with death at £5.50 a packet. I concluded that while I had a right to kill myself slowly I had no such right to visit a long, lingering and agonising death on those around me. It was a moment of epiphany – or "epuffhany," as it emerged on the Today programme next morning.
Smoking was so much a part of the Westminster style. The only intimate conversations I had with David Cameron and Ed Vaizey were in the smoking room (where they kept their Silk Cut and Marlborough Lites in a humidor – true!) and I was conscious of Oscar Wilde's comment about war always having its supporters as long as it was considered wicked, and it only becoming unpopular when it was seen as vulgar.
The ban worked – and works ever-more effectively by the day. Hospital admissions for CCF and emphysema are plummeting and the world smells a little sweeter.
I threw my cigs and well-worn Zippo lighter away the day after I voted for the ban, and I haven't had a cigarette since. Modern nicotine replacement lozenges and gum do more than enough to sort out the chemical craving and giving up was quite painless.
Next morning I met my teenage daughter at home. She had a stack of polythene bags in her arms. She told me that ever since she was a toddler she'd shrouded her clothes in plastic bags because they reeked with smoke otherwise. That was the decider. Smoking is so antisocial that it should be banned – and this time I will trust the better instincts of the people and vote for health over libertarianism.Reuse content