Go ahead and ban smoking in pub gardens. I'm ready to accept that the party's over

The words 'nanny state' have never passed my lefty lips, but Christ alive, can’t you even have a joint and a barbecue in a public park any more and be left alone?

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The call for a smoking ban in pub gardens will come as a disappointment to those of us who, since the 2007 legislation, have dedicated serious time and endeavour to locating suitable backdrops to our disgusting habit.

A good beer garden is hard to find, and they are especially few and far between in urban areas. Whether it’s locating the one with the best heaters to facilitate your year-round puffing extravaganza, or finding an outdoor drinking space that is mercifully free of children (two weekends ago, a christening party at our local pub left a full nappy abandoned, dead centre, on an otherwise empty picnic table), pub gardens are some of the few places where smokers can enjoy in peace that most sainted of combinations: cigarettes and alcohol.

On the spectrum of smokers’ rights, I fall somewhere vague between an NHS advisory committee and the famous smoking advocate and artist David Hockney, who at the time referred to the ban as “the most grotesque piece of social engineering”.

I’ll admit, however, that I’m more inclined to side with Hockney. (He also said: “There are enough no-smoking places now.”) Smokers are rapidly being pushed out of most public spaces in developed countries – where will we go?

Paris, Rome and even Moscow have fallen (not that I’d be tempted by Russia, thanks to its current paucity of decent cheese – another vice of mine). Parks are soon to be off-limits in Britain if the lobbyists get their way. Being a hand-wringing lefty liberal type, the words “nanny state” have never passed my lips, but Christ alive, can’t you even have a joint and a barbecue in a public park any more and be left alone? Is this what our grandfathers fought for?

I recognise the serious health reasons for stigmatising smokers, I do – but I love the filthy camaraderie of the pub beer garden, the guilty, giggly feeling of complicity you have when you and the person next to you light one up. I love the frisson of a new romantic encounter prompted by the spark of a 99p lighter, the spontaneous conversations, the shared jokes. There’s that feeling of being the rebellious outcast, while all the health bores sit inside with their paleo salads and superfood smoothies.

If I’m honest, I love smoking itself and, despite what every anti-smoking evangelist tells me, I secretly think it’s quite cool. (Can you blame me for the decades of album covers and fashion editorials that have featured cigarettes?)

 

I’ve been trying to kick the habit for nearly three years now, on and off. I’ve almost succeeded, having gone from 20 a day at university to one of those scroungers who bums yours when they’re drunk.

In fact, a pub garden is just about the only place I’ll yield, now, so a ban would probably help me to kick the habit for good. I’d feel bad for those other smokers, but my hacking cough is teaching me that nothing is so precious as your health. Plus, why should they enjoy themselves when I can’t?

Looking back at photographs of my hedonistic twenties, it strikes me that I have either a cigarette or a bottle in my hand most of the time, and often both. It was a blast, but at some point you have to accept that the party is over.

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