Simon Eldon-Edington: California dreaming - about the smoking ban

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Smoking, Smoking ban

I'm knocking back my third vodka at mid-night inside the packed Tiki Bar in Los Angeles, and my British accent is dismally failing to pull. In the...

I'm knocking back my third vodka at mid-night inside the packed Tiki Bar in Los Angeles, and my British accent is dismally failing to pull. In the state where the world's first comprehensive indoor smoking ban came into effect in 1998, I resort to lighting a cigarette, yet neither myself, nor the bar owner, are breaking the law. And while the pretty young blonde girl sitting next to me doesn't seem especially interested in why all of us are allowed to smoke inside this particular bar, you should be...

Six months earlier, I'm outside the Pig and Whistle pub in Wimbledon, sitting under a flimsy umbrella, in the pouring rain, and legally smoking a cigarette too. But strangely, it's not quite as much fun.

So how did California, the world's most health-conscious society, implement smoking legislation that ensured virtually no bar closures, protected bar staff and non-smokers from second hand smoke, while still making it pleasurable for smokers to enjoy a night out?

And why did the UK smoking legislation sadly not accomplish the same?

The pretty blonde girl next to me mysteriously continues to ignore me when I ask for her opinion on this complex subject, but, as I now speak American, here's my two cents worth.

Firstly, when the ban was first proposed in California, the Pub and Tavern Association immediately took on the powerful health lobby, and insisted on exemptions for certain bars. Whereas in the UK, most pub trade groups supported the proposed outright indoor ban legislation as written, and simply went along with it.

Secondly, the population of mostly non-smokers in California backed up their Pub Association on the bar exemptions in a state refurendum, based on the core American belief that individuals, not the government, should be free to make decisions about how they lead their lives, once the majority are protected.

In the UK, the population of mostly non-smokers, seemingly blinded by their dislike of smoke, failed to grasp the implications of allowing their government to comprehensively dictate to all bar owners and every smoker how they lead their lives, and went along with a zero exemptions outright indoor ban.

But with new proposals on wine glass sizes, and what a pint glass can be made of, Sir Liam Donaldson, the Government Minister for Health - who wrote the smoking legislation and the above future proposals - will ensure that eventually non-smokers too, grasp the implications of allowing the government to dictate how we lead our lives.

Most of us think that the UK smoking legislation is pretty much the same as the rest of the world's. But in reality, it's not. All US states (even New York), and most of Europe, have some exemptions to permit cigarette smoking inside certain bars, under certain conditions. The UK has zero.

All US states, and most of Europe, permit fully-enclosed outside smoking areas. The UK permits a roof, and two sides. Less than a pig sty.

The current UK smoking legislation therefore gives us the dubious honor of having the most draconian smoking legislation in the world. Should we be proud that we're still the best in the world at something?

Any debate on this subject is usually hindered by most people believing the rest of the world has committed to banning smoking indoors, so the UK ban will never be amended anyway. But again, the reality is, both Holland and Germany, along with eight cities in the US this year alone, have either amended or completely thrown out their indoor smoking ban legislation.

The debate then further deteriorates into a back and forth shouting match about selfish smokers, intolerant non-smokers, whether the smoking ban is causing massive pub closures or not, or the proof or lack thereof of the dangers of second hand smoke.

And while these are all points to debate, at its core, this debate is really about the freedom for all of us to live our lives as we choose.

None of us should accept the current UK legislation, because it's unnecessarily restrictive to accomplish the stated goal of protecting bar staff, whether you hate cigarette smoke or not. After all, if you could go to a smoke-free bar, why would it bother you if smokers could also go to a bar where they could smoke too?

A sensible compromise can, and should be found, as in most of the rest of the free world, where both smokers and non-smokers can enjoy a night out in a pub, without the smokers having to stand out in the rain like naughty children, and without non-smokers and bar staff having to breath in smoke should they not wish to.

And unless you really want your government dictating to you soon, that your pint must be served in a plastic glass, we should all agree that the freedom to live our lives as we choose trumps everything else. Yes, even any annoyance you might personally hold against cigarette smoke and smokers.

Back in the Tiki bar, it's now one in the morning, and after gulping down her seventh cocktail, the pretty blonde girl next to me suddenly decides she will now give me her much sought-after opinion on this complex subject; by helpfully pointing out she's twenty-two, I'm not, and though California is a state of mind, I've clearly lost mine in the sunshine.

I reply that I still dream that one day soon, back in the UK, when non-smokers finally grasp the implications of supporting the government over unnecessarily draconian restrictions on how smokers and publicans lead their lives, and when the proposed restrictions on alcohol effect them too, things will change and the freedom to smoke inside certain UK pubs will be allowed once again.

But she's not impressed by my British dream, and simply replies "And your accent totally doesn't make up for you being grey-haired and balding either".

So I beg you all back home in the UK, hurry up and work to change the indoor smoking legislation please. Otherwise, I'll be forever stuck inside this LA bar, freely smoking and drinking, next to an unimpressed blonde girl called Taylor, writing to The Publican​, a drunken mix of British, California dreaming...

Simon Eldon-Edington is a British screenwriter, based in Los Angeles.

Related topics: Property law, Legislation

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