True Gripes: My smoke, my fire: Light up or leave me alone

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The Independent Online
London has changed. I came here because I wanted to live somewhere where laissez faire was part of the equation. This used to be a cosmopolitan city, despite its closing hours, where you stood a good chance of being left alone.

The thing that gets to me is smoking. Not the people who do it, but the ones who don't. I can't light up when I emerge from some non-smoking cinema in Leicester Square without someone bitching about it. Usually someone who's been talking behind me throughout the film.

I can't stick a Silk Cut ultra-low in my mouth in a bar without someone two tables away going through an elaborate pantomime of hand-waving and going 'egh-heeugh egh-heeugh'. What do they expect? It's a pub, not a health farm.

One third of the country still smokes; more in London. About a third don't really mind: they feel people should be allowed to go to hell whichever way they want and would rather not have their social circle limited by something so petty. And the rest would do absolutely anything to make sure that nobody else gets to have any fun if they're not having any.

Don't get me wrong: some of my best friends don't smoke. I think that small children shouldn't be smoked over: maybe if my glamorous mother hadn't smelled of scent and fag smoke I wouldn't be such a devotee of the weed now.

I endorse smoking bans in the Tube and other enclosed spaces where people are crowded together by necessity not choice. Especially on rainy days.

But the Fun Police are getting out of control, and are no longer content with just limiting our habit. Now they also want to think that nobody is smoking anywhere, ever. Not in bars, not in restaurants, not in the lobbies of theatres.

There have been no-smoking areas all my life, and I have always respected them: now it seems that the quid pro quo is worth nothing.

Once upon a time, if you wanted to smoke on a London bus you could go upstairs, and the people who didn't could stay downstairs. How did this harm anyone? They're separate floors, for heaven's sake.

Once upon a time smokers could sit on the right-hand side of the cinema. Cinemas have air-conditioning and high ceilings. Non-smokers had two-thirds of the cinema to sit in. This seemed like a civilised way of dealing with a (large) minority habit.

Now, as far as I know, the only place I can go to do that is the Coronet at Elephant and Castle, long may it last.

There are a couple of dozen homes that I just dread going to. I'm not sure why some people have parties, given how much they grizzle.

The refrain of the next decade will probably be something like 'I've decided to ban drinking in my flat because I can't bear the place smelling like a pub the next day'. Has nobody ever told these people what windows are for?

Now that gay people, black people and women who don't think men are automatically right are not legitimate targets (well, not in some circles), something else has to move into the firing line.

Nothing, however, is going to stop me smoking. Pressuring me merely increases my contempt for those who do it.

Wave your air freshener at me and I'll show you exactly where you can stick it.

(Photograph omitted)

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