cigarette pack Smoking bans are political suicide. cigarette pack

On the 26th March 2006 Scottish Labour introduced the smoking ban in Scotland. On the night of 3rd May 2007 they lost the Scottish Assembly Elections because one single itsy-bitsy constituency - Cunningham North (01) - changed from being a Labour stronghold and voted in an SNP candidate with a wafer thin margin of 40 votes.

Way down on the list of parties that contested the election in 2007 was the Publican Party. They got 5,900 votes, or about 0.3% of the total cast that night. That party only existed to overturn the smoking ban; just a couple of hacked-off publicans from Inverness who decided to give it a go and - very sensibly - chose to advertise their party through a network of pubs (02).

I was tickled with the Publican Party because, as a PR stunt, they had a chap dress up in a cigarette costume, then stood outside Holyrood to let journalists take photographs that were then published in several newspapers. Everything done on a shoestring budget, however it seems the overwhelming majority of those who supported them were long standing Scottish Labour voters.

50 years of Labour dominance in Scotland came to an end that night - and what it boiled down to were the 21 individuals in Cunningham North who decided to vote for the SNP instead of Labour. Just 21 people - and they changed the face of politics in Scotland, probably for as far as the eye can see.

Yet in spite of the outrage voiced in Scotland, almost all Scottish MPs - Labour and Liberal Democrat - voted to ban smoking in England (03). That resulted in the ban in England coming into effect on 1st July 2007. On the other hand all MPs from the SNP - very sensibly - abstained from voting on that issue.

Of course Labour lost the next General Election held in 2010. Quite why people decided they'd had enough of Labour isn't terribly important, all I can say is I was sat with a satisfied smile on my mush when Brown, looking suitably chastised, stated his final words outside number 10. "Thank you and goodbye."

And Mr. Miliband made several strategic errors during his term as Labour Party Leader, one being to side very publicly with the "No" campaign during the lead up to the Scottish referendum on independence. And while Alistair Darling, who led the no campaign, proved to be more than a match for Mr. Salmond during several debates, no one was in any doubt that he was a Labour MP. These things matter in Scotland, so many Labour supporters who wanted independence chose to switch their allegiance to the SNP or, if they own a house that's likely to attract the (quite severe) Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (04), to the Conservatives.

Whatever the reason Labour blew it in 2015 and were virtually wiped out in Scotland! I do not support the SNP, though I smile frequently in the knowledge that every Labour and Liberal Democrat MP from Scotland who voted for the smoking ban in England have lost their jobs! Yes there is one Labour MP in Scotland - Ian Murray (05). He was only elected for the first time in 2010, so he's not tainted with the smoking ban - and he's worked hard to help keep the Hearts football team going, so he definitely deserves to keep his job.

Alistair Carmichael's (06) the only remaining Liberal Democrat MP in Scotland and he abstained from voting on the English smoking ban and has either abstained or voted against all subsequent measures against smokers (07). So no good reason why he should find another line of work for the next five years. In fact we could use many more like him!

There's something fundamentally wrong with the present system that allows Scottish and other regional MPs to vote on legislation that only concerns England. The smoking ban was a perfect case in point, however it was never going to get past first base when Labour were in office, and the Liberal Democrats also had a vested interest in keeping things as they were. The SNP has changed that and before they break for summer 2015, regional MPs will be denied the right to vote on any issue that only concerns England. That I like very much indeed!

What's laughable about all this is the person behind the push to extend the smoking ban in Scotland to include the leisure sector - and to specify things like "smoking shelters" was none other than Stewart Maxwell MSP - and he's SNP. I quote from his Wiki page (08):

"Stewart Maxwell is best known for being the architect of the ban on smoking in enclosed places in Scotland. He laid a motion in the Scottish Parliament stating that he intended to bring forward a bill to ban smoking in public places in July 2003 and went on to introduce the Bill to ban tobacco smoking in enclosed public places in February 2004, as perhaps befits a former employee of Strathclyde Fire Brigade. The Scottish Executive at first opposed this proposal, but were eventually forced to accept the idea after it received widespread support. They eventually published their own bill which was passed on June 30, 2005 and the ban came into effect on March 26, 2006."

So it is that a whole series of events have taken place because the Labour party in Scotland fell for that hogwash of "it received widespread support".

Politicians know perfectly well when we're really ticked off about something. When it's very serious indeed - as it was with that business of lobbing missiles at Syria - then it's a wall of never ending communication. With that it suited the Labour Party to side with the public.

Yet they've taken a different tack on overseas aid. With that they know perfectly well that taxpayers' are not in the least impressed with our government borrowing money to give it away, yet our communications are either ignored or responded to with platitudes. With overseas aid things are slightly different, all major parties have signed up to it - and people who don't pay tax don't much care one way or another. Certainly they don't write in about it.

And they know perfectly well when the outrage is completely contrived - as it is with the smoking ban and plain packaging and all the rest of these so called initiatives. Yet it seems to work rather well - and we have a recent example of how they do it, with the ban on smoking in public places in New Orleans that came in earlier this year (this is one of many on Frank Davis blog (09)). Get one of your people into a position of power, make sure you've got acres of so called experts to back up your case, follow this with contrived polls and surveys, make sure any on-line comment that's in the least critical is removed within minutes and follow this with a tidal wave of computer generated emails to selected policy makers, especially those who may be wavering.

A word about experts. They're routinely bought to say the right thing, either with cash in hand, or an undertaking to fund a research project that'll elevate his or her academic status - as is the case with Dr. Sean Semple. That chap's pulled in well in excess of £600,000 to fund various studies that say what tobacco control want them to say (10).

So it's relatively simple to keep things ticking along once you've got FCTC ratified and you've got the funding and the smoking ban. The media, especially newspapers, are horribly easy to keep in line; simply threaten to stop placing those lucrative smoking cessation adverts with whatever paper pisses them off. Same with commercial television and radio: quite frequently their adverts in either medium run for up to 60 seconds during prime time. That's very serious money, so it pays to bow deferentially to ones' paymaster and toe the line.

Against this, it's very difficult indeed for your average MP to go against the consensus or the party line and the one thing that's restrained a few MPs in marginal seats - that their constituents might take it out of their hide - is in the process being negated through a study conducted by academics at the University of Colorado. They're trying to alleviate legislators' anxieties by claiming that "Smokers don't vote" (11). In this they speculate that:

"Smokers may view political institutions as oppressors, given widespread enactment of tobacco taxes and clean indoor air laws. Somewhat similarly, the stigma associated with smoking may create social withdrawal or feelings of depression or fatalism among smokers, which could decrease voting."

Okay the study is from America and perhaps they do things differently there. I certainly don't feel in the least depressed, nor am I fatalistic; just very seriously pissed-off that so much money's being thrown at tosspots, mostly from our taxes but increasingly from Big Lottery. And I know perfectly well that I'm not alone - in Scotland or anywhere.

In the end it took only 21 people to change the political course of Scotland in 2007. We took one year to suss out the social and economic damage caused and got rid of the party responsible for the ban. The English had to wait three years until the next election then did the same. The Greeks largely ignored their ban and at the next election got shot of the then Prime Minister, George Papandreou, and have boycotted his party - PASOK - ever since.

As they've continued to move the goalposts in Turkey (12) with a range of outdoor areas being included in their "National Tobacco Control Program 2015-2018", I have no doubt that more than 21 smokers decided enough was enough at their last election - and in so doing dashed the hopes of Erdogan to be elevated to a Putin-style Super-President through a change to their constitution! I'm also delighted that the Kurdish people now have an official voice in the Turkish parliament and sufficient seats to influence events!

With 120 million smokers in India they may seem to be a small minority, however very few women in India smoke, meaning about 20 to 25% of the male population do. It took them a while, but on the second election following their ban, they hoofed the old order - the INC - and elected the BJP with a monumental swing of 166 seats to give them an outright majority (13)!

The trouble with headline figures such as "120 million smokers" is it doesn't take into account those who produce, supply, entertain and feed them. India doesn't have a welfare system as such but what they do have is thousands upon thousands of tiny little low margin operations, like tea shops and peasant farmers who depend on their tobacco harvest as a reliable cash crop. They have no savings to cushion any loss in business and while a tea shop owner may simply sack a commission only tea wallah and a farmer may have to sell for less than the cost of production, those are temporary measures. Smoking bans are slow creeping insidious things that work their way through the economy quite slowly.

A tea shop wallah may not be able to quite grasp his loss of a job was as a direct result of the smoking ban. He's hand to mouth and there's an immediacy about putting food on a family table. A tobacco farmer may initially think its just a surplus of tobacco and it'll come good the following year. It's when it doesn't that people decide another set of heads in parliament might be a good thing - and that plus illiteracy and or the dearth anti-ban blogs might help explain the delay in India, where news still travels by word of mouth. It's very likely none of these people smoke, but they're just as hard hit as the people in the UK who saw their businesses collapse. Here they can fall back on the welfare state, but their reaction's almost certainly the same as many smokers... time for a change.

There are many more examples of a similar nature, however in places like France, the Netherlands, Bulgaria and so on it involved a change to the makeup of a coalition government. So while FCTC is a one-size-fits-all "global" solution, the reaction is as varied as the countries' and peoples' involved - at least where there's a an honest attempt at a democratically elected government.

Where this is not the case, such as Egypt, Syria, Iran, China and Russia to name just a few, I suspect that irate smokers will seek alternative ways of bringing down the people responsible for their smoking ban. Quite how they do it is up to them, though I suspect it'll be impossible to link cause and effect, which is excellent in a peculiar way.

By that I mean no one in the media has implied that support for UKIP accelerated, in part, because they undertook to allow indoor smoking rooms. And I doubt the Dutch press has hung the relaxed attitude their Freedom Party has toward smoking in enclosed spaces as one reason why people voted for them. It's not apparent to media people - it seems - that a very considerable part of their appeal to many voters is exactly that.

That suits me just fine. I don't want the general public to know what's happening right under their noses. Even if they do stumble upon this post they'll most likely put it down to your standard issue theatrical denier because, to most non-smokers, we're considered in exactly the same way as we are by the media and those folk at the University of Colorado. We don't even begin to register as a political force.

We simply cannot possibly be doing things like this, certainly not over something as trivial as a smoking ban, increased taxes or being dictated to by nose flicks. No sir, as far as the general public are concerned there were a thousand and one reasons why all these political parties got booted out of office. And because we don't do marches, stick signs in our window or blow up things - and we're seen to be complying each and every day in the street or huddled in corners or in some grotty smoking shelter, then we must have accepted our lot in life!

That's a perfectly understandable, albeit staggeringly naive, point of view. And that's why I have no beef whatsoever with the general public, nor I seek to change one hair on their combined heads. My beef's with elected officials and those receiving any form of public funding by whatever means, no matter how small, as well as those who purloin charity donations and lottery funds.

Would Jack McConnell, Tony Blair or Tayyip Erdagon do anything different if they had the ability to see into the future? I very much doubt it, any more than Putin or those in the Communist Party in China, where they're so remote, entrenched and aloof from their subjects that they feel invincible!

They're not. The fact they don't have a clue what they did wrong (and even the front runners for leadership of the Labour Party still haven't sussed it) makes it all the more satisfying. I very much want to see Russia, India and China fragment into their component parts, and I believe their smoking bans are just the beginning of what will undoubtedly become the greatest geopolitical game-changer of modern times.

Oh, and I also want to see a full blown, fully independent Kurdistan with all it's constituent parts returned by Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. That I will enjoy enormously!

It may have been created for all sorts of reasons, but tobacco control will never stamp out tobacco production or consumption worldwide. Ever. They will however help make the world a different place and for the most part, certainly at a political level, I think it's shaping up rather well.
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Smoking Scot
July 2015