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Britain needs a cigarette Why do the English want to ban smoking?

Go on, have a smoke. (Photo by CARL COURT / AFP) (Photo by CARL COURT/AFP via Getty Images)

Go on, have a smoke. (Photo by CARL COURT / AFP) (Photo by CARL COURT/AFP via Getty Images)


December 27, 2021   3 mins

I will be 84 next month — even though I have smoked since I was sixteen. I started with five Woodbines and now I smoke Davidoff magnums which I have to get from Germany.

I recently told my doctor I smoke twenty a day, then about ten in the evenings — and I try and keep it down to five during the night. I also told him that I have had three doctors in the last fifty years. Each of them recommended I give up. But each of them has now died; the last one only a year older than me. My new doctor laughed and said nothing. He has a good sense of humour.

My father was a very keen anti-smoker, but he died at 75 because he ate too many chocolate biscuits. He was a diabetic who would walk up the street to buy a packet of chocolate biscuits and then eat them all in the park. This caused him to go into comas, which he did once too often and died of a heart attack in the hospital. He knew that going into a coma damages your heart, but he was a lot more worried about the smokers.

I knew this was completely irrational, but I also knew that he wasn’t alone. One of the reasons I moved to Normandy was because there are many people in England like him who are now trying to ban smoking. All of them are humourless bossy boots.

They are now trying it in Oxfordshire, which wants to become England’s first “smoke-free” county. I have no plans to go there. I was once invited by the Oxford Union to a debate on smoking, but I had to decline because of my deafness — although I did also point out that there’s not a hotel in Oxford where you can smoke.

It is the relentlessness of these people that has demonised smoking in England and America. Why are they listened to? It wouldn’t happen in France, Germany, Italy or Spain.

The Guardian published a report last week about how there were now 1.1 billion smokers in the world — but it also mentioned that 8 million had “died” from smoking, and how terrible that was. I had to remind them that 8 million was 0.73% of 1.1 billion, so what about the 99.27 % that hadn’t?

It’s all madness to me and something should be said. I have always thought the world to be mad and it has been madder at other points in my lifetime. I was, after all, born in 1937. I would normally be willing to take on the anti-smokers, but at the moment I’m living a very quiet life in Normandy, working away because I’ve something to do. I have a purpose in life.

Not many people in England will defend smoking. They are intimidated by the medical profession and “social pressure”. Well, I’m lucky I can’t hear the “social pressure”, let alone what the doctors have to say. Their obsession with health is unhealthy. Longevity shouldn’t be an aim in life; that to me seems to be life-denying.

I know the World Health Organisation is also part of this madness. They might relentlessly go on about it, but why are they listened to? They are completely irrational. They won’t give up, just like my father.

In my profession, Picasso smoked and died at 91, Matisse smoked and died at 84 and Monet chain-smoked and died at 86. I don’t smoke much when I’m painting, but I light a cigarette every fifteen minutes when I stop to check what I have done. Monet smoked while he painted, but kept them in his mouth all the time. I can’t do that. I take a drag then hold it in my hand.

Renoir also smoked: if you go on YouTube and type in “Renoir smoking and painting”, you will see an old man painting with difficulty because of his arthritic hands. And then he lights a cigarette. I can tell he enjoys it enormously, and all these bossy boots would deny him that pleasure.

I know there will always be bossy people. Anne Applebaum says that 30% of people in every country have an “authoritarian disposition” — but doesn’t she just mean “bossy”? Smoking for me is a deep pleasure and 1.1 billion people in the world seem to agree. It can never be stopped; smokers would just start growing their own tobacco. But we need more people to defend it, otherwise the bossy boots will win in England.

I’m 100% sure that I am going to die of a smoking-related illness or a non-smoking related illness. But I couldn’t imagine not smoking, and when people tell me to stop I always point this out. I’ve done it for 68 years, so are you telling me I’m doing something wrong? Fuck off.

Laugh a lot. It clears the lungs.

This piece was originally published in June.


David Hockney is an English painter.


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Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 years ago

No they’re not bossy, they’re authoritarian and, increasingly, they’re in control.

“The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been i tosolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful.”

G.K. Chesterton

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Love that quotation – so very true!

GA Woolley
GA Woolley
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

A quite extraordinary claim from a man who became a doctrinaire member of one of the most authoritarian organisations in history, whose clerics told everyone what to do, say, think, and eat, but threatened them with eternal pain and suffering if they didn’t obey.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 years ago
Reply to  GA Woolley

Undoubtedly true. I think his point in this quote is that Christianity provided a structure (tyranny if you prefer) that was commonly understood.

The 10 commandments aren’t a bad set of rules for human cooperation. Absent a police force or impartial judicial system, appeal to a higher power was the only compliance lever. It was often grotesquely misused.

Morality is now whatever I want it to be. My “lived experience” trumps any desire you may have for objective truth. The collective myths (however imperfect) that bound our societies are collapsing, often driven by fanatics claiming to be virtuous.

Roger Sponge
Roger Sponge
2 years ago
Reply to  GA Woolley

Care to give any examples of official Catholic teaching telling people what to eat?
Or say or think?

Last edited 2 years ago by Roger Sponge
Julie Blinde
Julie Blinde
2 years ago
Reply to  Roger Sponge

Oh no,
I think the Catholic Church was totally open and freee thinking.
Sorry. was that a ‘was’ ?
Sorry no. The RC is totally PC
Is that better ?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago
Reply to  Roger Sponge

No meat on Friday’s for one. They also banned the use of artificial contraception. There’s plenty of examples of authoritarianism in the church restricting people’s choices if I could be bothered to look

jules Ritchie
jules Ritchie
2 years ago

I love his article but can’t join him in supporting smoking. If a smoker could live isolated from others it wouldn’t matter to me but as we who don’t inhale still have to endure their odour, body and breath, I have to object. The stink of clothing, cars, recently vacated seats on transport, all odious. But I wish him well and a happy new Year.

Iris C
Iris C
2 years ago
Reply to  jules Ritchie

Tobacco is a drug and drugs like diazepam replaced it for those who needed the fix, so the government lost both ways – no taxes collected on tobacco and more call on the public-funded NHS.

David Bell
David Bell
2 years ago
Reply to  jules Ritchie

Agreed. The same argument that Hockney uses used to be raised by those opposing mandatory seatbelts and motorcycle helmets. In those cases I agreed with freedom of choice as the non-wearers only endangered themselves.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
2 years ago
Reply to  jules Ritchie

I didn’t bother to read this article when it initially came out as the premise seemed idiotic. My parents both smoked and I suffered severe asthma though my youth.
Today if someone starts smoking outside, even if they are on another table, I have to move to avoid setting-off my asthma, even if it is highly inconvenient to do so. I have no objection to someone smoking provided they ensure they do so well away from anybody else.

David Bell
David Bell
2 years ago

The limit should be as long as you don’t disturb others. Hockney clearly doesn’t care about the discomfort his habit may cause others. He’s selfish, yet accuses others of being bossy.

Last edited 2 years ago by David Bell
Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

And how much does your censoriousness affect others?

I used to smoke. I now don’t like the smell so would expect visitors to my house to not smoke.

I don’t think it’s beyond the wit of man to have smoking and non smoking pubs. The market will then decide, no need for government edict.

Smoking is banned in outdoor football stadiums, where neither the smell nor the (exaggerated) risks from secondary smoking are significant enough to really be an issue.

At what point does your insistence on zero discomfort for you, become the imposition of discomfort on others? Is this the virtue of consideration for others, loosed from its moorings and running amok?

The parallels with pandemic are obvious.

Last edited 2 years ago by Martin Bollis
David Bell
David Bell
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

You call it censoriousness but I consider Hockney’s attitude lack of consideration for others. I am in no way advocating limiting his right to damage his own health but I have the right not to have to smell his fumes. Smoking is indeed banned in stadiums and public transport, thank goodness. You may be too young to remember the lousy experience of hours sitting on longhaul flights when smoking was allowed. It’s a matter of commonsense and courtesy to others who may not like it.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

Perhaps we differ on detail rather than principle.

I do indeed remember puffing away on planes. As it started to get phased out, I booked flights back to SA on Air France (despite the inconvenience) as they were one of the last to maintain a smoking section. A long haul flight is a special kind of torture to a moderately heavy smoker. Is there any need for you to show courtesy to them?

Despite all that, I support no smoking on planes and public transport. Their enclosed nature makes the balance of discomfort rest too heavily on the non smoker, though smoking carriages on trains were a reasonable compromise. In an open air stadium, I believe the situation is reversed. The discomfort to the non smoker is insignificant.

The point really goes back to the Chesterton quote. Those waving the flag of consideration rapidly descend into a “smokers bad people, non smokers good people” binary and are quick to inflict their sanctions without debate or compromise-authoritarians.

If we are really going to go to town on arrogant, inconsiderate, popinjays, causing great inconvenience and occasional death or injury, we should reserve all our ire for 
 cyclists. 🙂

Last edited 2 years ago by Martin Bollis
David Bell
David Bell
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Err…I’m a cyclist but I agree with your comment on reckless and arrogant cyclists. We are all road users so in the interest of safety for all we should be courteous to all. The principle, as you say, is the same.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

‘Torture’ is a bit infantile frankly. Oral fixaters. Hmm.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 years ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

It’s called hyperbole, quite a mild form in this instance, but not uncommon in debate.

Throwing a bit of Freud in to demonstrate the lofty intellectual heights from which you condescend – how undergraduate of you.

Karl Francis
Karl Francis
2 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

Agreed.

Gorgia Verolini-Wright
Gorgia Verolini-Wright
2 years ago

Smoking bans are almost enirely ubiquitous across the UK & the US because the “moral majority” are lied to about the inherent dangers to non-smokers of being able to smell others’ smoke. It started in the UK with the appalling Tony Blair, who openly said that it was time to create a European cafe culture in the UK – ignoring the fact that smoking was/is an integral part of that culture. He also subjected the nation’s pubs to a new & overly complicated licensing procedure which now costs huge amounts & is, of course, overly beaurocratic – all under the cover of getting rid of the old & rather restictive licensing laws.He achieved the most incredible change in the average British subject’s life because he gave “permission” to everyone to ditch the normal courtesies (my non-smoking grandparents always had cigarettes available for smoking visitors to their house) in favour of an accusatory & judgemental world in which it is only normal NOT to tolerate another’s pecadillos. The new “rules” also directly caused thousands of pubs to close but that – naturally – was never an issue for his philosophical standpoint, based as it is on socialistic cobntrol!

David Bell
David Bell
2 years ago

As long as your habit doesn’t disturb others you are welcome to it. Unfortunately, there are too many selfish smokers like yourself Hockney who don’t give a damn about others in their vicinity. “Do you mind if I smoke?” is hardly ever heard nowadays.

jules Ritchie
jules Ritchie
2 years ago

I forgot to add… has anyone read about what New Zealand is intending as a measure to wipe smoking from their country all together? Read up and be horrified!

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago
Reply to  jules Ritchie

A ridiculous law, that despite never being workable in practice somehow has the support of all major parties

rodney foy
rodney foy
2 years ago
Reply to  jules Ritchie

I think smoking will die out in affluent countries. Banning it is probably the wrong approach

Bill W
Bill W
2 years ago

I used to be given a packet of cigarettes with my pocket money. By the time I was working in the City in my mid twenties I peaked at 60 a day and then just quit.

Victoria Cooper
Victoria Cooper
2 years ago

In the not too distant future scientific advances in genetics will be able to discern those who will or will not be damaged by smoking. Then people can make informed choices. Yes, the smell is obnoxious, but when, in our recent past, a large number of people smoked freely it was practically unnoticeable.

David Bell
David Bell
2 years ago

I’ve noticed and loathed it all my life of 72 years.

Edward De Beukelaer
Edward De Beukelaer
2 years ago

two observations:
1) cigarette smoke stinks: it is really unpleasant to a lot of people.
2) instead of looking what makes people ill, medicine should look at what makes people healthy: that will change the medical research, treatment and debates radically
(note that medical statistics show that helping people to stop smoking increases the overall cost of health care for the NHS)

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
2 years ago

Laugh a lot- in that ghastly coughing phlegm racked laugh so common in smokers.

David McDowell
David McDowell
2 years ago

Quite right too.

Kate Aashi
Kate Aashi
2 years ago

For a long time I used to ask my mother to stop smoking. When she turned 80 I stopped. I wish I’d stopped a lot earlier.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
2 years ago
Reply to  Kate Aashi

An anecdotal outlier is an anecdotal…oh I give up.

ÂŁ$%^&* (*&^%$
ÂŁ$%^&* (*&^%$
2 years ago

Mr Hockney, the plural of “anecdote” is not “data”.
Stick to painting; leave the science to others.