Seen a lot of what the other side thinks of us during the plain packs war of words. Stephen Williams and Andrew Lansley have us tagged as addicts who are nowhere near as productive, or long lived, as our non-smoking counterparts.
Of course they both make blanket assumptions that our early death from smoking affects our families and friends. Possibly the most important as far as they're concerned, yet the most facile, is that our early death means we no longer pay tax. Wrong on all counts (VAT excepted). Same as they're wrong to presume I have anything whatsoever to do with children, or anyone under the age of 18 for that matter. Or that my pecker droops, or I can't taste or smell anything.
Lots of outfits like to do that. ASH and their ilk love broad brush stroke stuff; good middle class family orientated, highly aspirational slogans, that I find amusing. When I think of family values and Andrew Lansley, there's a disconnect. Andy's the chap who walked out on his first wife, leaving her with a neat clutch of three kids, then went on to produce a further two sprogs by a woman who happens to run a very lucrative outfit that specialises in grooming punters required to attend Parliamentary Committees (1).
Or Sheila Duffy of ASH Scotland. Her academic achievements are impressive, with degrees in English Literature and Education. And she has a plan B, with a recently acquired Diploma in Library and Information Science. These she puts to use in her blog, though her claims to "monthly" and "musing" seem somewhat exaggerated, along with most of her content (2). However this common law wife and mother of two displays scant regard to environmental issues, generating a massive personal carbon footprint on her commute from her modest abode in Fife, over the Forth Bridge, to her office bang in the centre of Edinburgh (3). Of course, like many of her ilk, personal responsibility is something the other guy needs to get right.
Then there's Stephen Williams; the gay who wants all same-sex couples to have exactly the same rights as straights. And wants to make smoker bashing a non-punishable offence. One seriously sick deviant with the mistaken belief that career advancement can be assisted through his chairmanship of the committees to hide tobacco displays and plain packaging (4).
Those at the forefront of the anti-smoking movement have created the conditions that encourage the most radical in our society. I've noted numerous comments on the web, and these include reputable newspapers, that advocate the use of violence, including firearms and vehicles, to maim, mutilate or kill us as we stand outside various facilities. They use terms like "scum", "stupid", "inconsiderate", "killers" and make the most puerile accusations imaginable.
I can sympathise with some people who claim to have to run a gauntlet of smokers when they enter a pub or club, yet I suspect that many who comment thus are not participants; they're simply using an observation as an excuse to criticise. In truth the overwhelming majority of clubbers and pub goers seldom give a flying fart about what goes on at the entrance and if they comment, as many do in places like Trip Advisor or Yelp, it's usually to help smokers by pointing out if the place has half decent smoking facilities.
If I've learned anything it's that comments made on forums are a precursor to some new "initiative" by TCI and I strongly suspect that many are plants. These tactics are well known to bloggers with comment sections. Almost all have been targeted by a troll at some point - and they continue to receive fairly hateful emails. These are up front and in your face things with explicit descriptions of what will become the recipient.
It's a similar story with research material. Much of what's held out as "authentic research" or "independent polls" are little more than contrived sops designed to reinforce these "initiatives". Invariably they don't stand up to even the most superficial scrutiny. Though we're invariably the subject, we're never the intended audience. Their modus operandi is always to launder them via Mass Media (5), to add legitimacy before presenting them to their end user - politicians; usually those who take the view that they have the right to govern everything. Exactly the mentality of CRUK and ASH!
In that sense Lansley, Williams, Arnott, Duffy and many others are jointly and severally responsible for what has become little more than institutionalised intimidation... and the consequences thereof.
But we face criticism from within our own ranks. I've heard it and I've read it. Smokers who say "we're doing nothing". That's fine, I can relate to that because there's no immediate prospect of any meaningful change to the smoking ban.
I sussed that in 2006, long before they introduced the ban in Scotland. I could have railed against it with friends or by commenting on anything I could get my hands on. Instead I chose to compile a stack of smoker directories (21 at one point) and to vent my feelings via my posts. This way I get to learn things, to exchange ideas and the directories save smokers a whole heap of time.
There's more to this than sharing my thoughts. There are three smoking shelters at Edinburgh airport. They didn't spring up of their own volition, people asked for them. I know, I was one of them. I'd like to see smoking shelters in every hospital and every bus and train terminal and I'd like to make sure people have a choice when it comes to charity boxes. No more of this "company policy" of supporting only CRUK or British Heart or Lung Foundation. Any charity that endorses the smoking ban is fair game.
I'd love to see the House of Lords given a thorough going over. Too many of them with sod all to do, and political appointees are the worst of all. This business of banning smoking in cars where there are kids went from Alex Cunningham MP, who failed abysmally (6), to Lord Ribeiro who then got it passed by the House of Lords (7). Don't know this Ribeiro, no one ever voted for him and his only claim to fame is he was something to do with the Royal College of Surgeons (8).
Same thing with the Committee charged with reviewing plain packs. That's riddled with Baroness and Lords who account to no one. Some are political appointees, yet several were born to position, which is a fancy way of saying that someone in their lineage did something for the establishment several generations ago (9).
We can't be expected to "vote them out", these antiques are part of the political baggage we've accumulated over centuries. They have a vested interest in retaining the status quo and they're perilously close to crashing the coalition. Certainly for a shower whose only purpose is to scrutinise government legislation, they've exceeded their remit for far too long.
I want to see a monumental shake up of the whole system of government, yet I don't agree with Clegg's proposals. They're a weak, watered down, pathetic compromise and not fit for task. This is the third time he's attempted to flog a pigs ear (AV and his infamous Freedom Charter being the other two). He's got the concept, however his execution is woeful. He'd have done us a far greater service by simply insisting that they must retire at age 72, or after 7 years for appointees, whichever comes first. Also that all members of the House of Lords and MPs over the age of 66 must submit themselves for a medical check-up every two years, mainly because so many of them are under heavy medication that clouds their judgment. (Some are barking mad, but that's my subjective observation!).
The trouble with critics who say we're not organised or we don't do enough, or we're just pissing in the wind, is they're real good at suggesting, then seem terribly offended when they're ignored. Direct action isn't my cup of tea, can't be bothered with placards or marches; not interested in getting my photo slapped all over the web, or some local rag.
I know TCI doesn't speak for the majority so I'll never endorse any boycott of all businesses for one day per month. Yes there are people who support the ban and there are some who'd like to see tobacco banned as well, but they're not the people who serve me in the very few coffee shops, pubs or country hotels I frequent. I know that because in every case the lady or gentleman behind the counter has, at some time over the past six and a half years, popped outside to have a chat whilst wolfing down his or her fag. And anything like a blanket boycott simply makes them, the lowest in the pecking order, the most likely to be made redundant.
Nope, to those who think we're a pretty ineffective lot, I'd suggest they do small things, doable things, local things. Even printing out a clutch of cigarette pack inserts helps if you leave the empty pack in the right location (10). At the very least it'll get people to log on to Frank or Dick or this place and from there they can go to all the blogs and learn more about what's happening and the people behind this. There are very few of them and knowing who they are and what organisations are involved is enormously empowering.
There are several causes crying out for help. Pat has an idea with merit (11), Frank Davis is on the lookout for people to help out with his ISIS survey (12), while Phil Johnson is doing his bit to help people with throat cancer (13). Phil also runs the Smoker's Justice site and has been responsible for raising funds to help many victims of the ban (see "Case Studies") (14).
I liked Leg Irons' description of us as a minor nuisance. I like being a minor nuisance and lots of minor nuisances amount to a very serious pain in the butt.
Frank Davis likens us as a swarm. A smokers swarm. Certainly they did exactly that in Stony Stratford and, with considerable help from non-smokers, they managed to defeat proposition 29 in California. And Dick seems to be able to galvanise his readers to vote for his "Blog Mascot" MP as well as get them to sign up against plain packs.
Junican once alluded to us as little gun boats firing away at a leviathan. Sometimes it seems like that; hours spent compiling posts with a life span of a couple of days before disappearing into archives.
Myself, well I said this about a year ago and I've no reason to change my opinion. If anything the past year has helped reinforce my view that we're a community with various individuals doing their own thing, all with one broad objective and that is to express our rejection of the smoking ban and all involved.
Not everyone in this virtual community smokes. Long Rider keeps an eye on developments because he sees the broader picture, the insidious creep into other aspects of our lives, whilst commentators have mentioned friends, relatives, businesses and the effect the ban has had on them and theirs.
There's the little guy, the seemingly hopeless cause aspect to all this - and that sometimes results in a post from the heart. It doesn't matter that they're taking on the entire establishment as well as TCI; those posts resonate with people and the message is universal. That stimulates others to join in with blogs, comments or causes because they see what can be achieved by telling the truth. That's where the other side fail. They try to engage yet, as we see with Duffy's blog, it's stilted, contrived, manipulated and an insult to all bar the most mendacious: our politicians, the gullible and fellow TCI anoraks.
When it suits smokers support the efforts of others and in that sense it has elements of an organisation. It may seem that we're unable to achieve Jack Shit on the ground, however I believe that's way off mark. As a group of amateurs we've achieved a great deal already. I've mentioned a few and, having listened to Pat and Chris argue our case against a largely hostile audience, I'm glad they're in our corner. I'm looking forward to seeing Frank's ISIS survey results because he's managed to do something unique; get to people who can't be reached by any other means. They may not be experts in any field but they are smokers and, above all else, they have a degree of personal integrity that puts them streets ahead of some accidental employee without the slightest clue of what they're dealing with, nor the broader consequences.
This thing isn't even firing on one cylinder, however I was impressed at the speed they reacted with the production of "Tobacco Control Tactics". It's a significant resource, produced by a diverse group who collaborate to bring their individual skills to the task at hand. The fact they're based in the US, Britain and the Netherlands, have never met in person and do it for free makes it even more remarkable. Hats off to them; it's slick, accurate, unpretentious and something to be very proud of.
And they got one thing dead right, they describe this place as a "Free-choice website opposing Tobacco Control" (15). Couldn't have said it better.