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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)


October 1, 2023   3 mins

This piece was originally published in 2021

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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Chipoko
Chipoko
7 months ago

Dear Mr Sunak
Please read the whole of this article, especially the penultimate paragraph.

Peta Seel
Peta Seel
6 months ago

I’m with you all the way here. I’m 75 and have been smoking since I was 18. One day, like everyone else, I am going to die and however it happens I will still be as dead as anyone else. I look around today’s world and I think that I am not really too fussed about when.

Madas A. Hatter
Madas A. Hatter
7 months ago

I stopped smoking and took up vaping, which I enjoy. And the same bossy boots tell me every day, “You can’t smoke here.” The second hand effects of vaping are exactly those of boiling a kettle. I have read many articles saying what undesirable substances are in vape fumes but not one (and I have looked hard) providing any quantitative information. Given that it is now trivial to detect substances at a concentration of one part per billion I see through those articles as the work of wowsers. Let’s be honest: many, many people simply object to others enjoying themselves. I’m with Hockney. They can all fock off.

Last edited 7 months ago by Madas A. Hatter
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
7 months ago

Why would you expect any quantitative information ?
It will take 20 – 30 years minimum for any adverse effects from vaping (like increased incidence of cancers) to appear.
Currently, the long term effects of smoking cost the NHS and associated social care (tax payers) anything from £ 2 – 17 billion / year depending on how you do the calculations.
I have no problem with people choosing their method of death as long as the medical consequences of their addiction is paid for out of their own pockets and that means privately in the UK. Your lifetime NI contribtions if you end up with diabetes, COPD, cancer etc (i.e. chronic diseases due to smoking) don’t go anywhere near covering your actual medical costs.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
28 days ago

Hadn’t you heard the news – there have been huge punitive taxes on tobacco for many years, from which the NHS should have benefitted.

Jim Glass
Jim Glass
28 days ago

Ah the costs to the NHS argument. That’s alcohol in the bin too. Red meat? Tut tut tut! I’m sure that cheese is worse than vaping so let’s get rid of that too. As David Hockney may say, f**k off!

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
27 days ago

“The cost to the NHS” argument used against smokers is a gross impertinence! To talk about NI contributions is to misunderstand the contribution which smokers contribute to the national exchequer. The cost of the packet of 20 cigarettes I smoke is currently £13 in the UK. Two years ago I was in Madrid where the very same cigarettes cost 4 Euros. This comparison alone shows the outrageous tax burden which has been heaped onto British smokers.

Fran Barrett
Fran Barrett
27 days ago

I suspect you are one of the people that Mr Hockney refers to repeatedly in his article…..

Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
26 days ago

Dear Elaine,
I hope to goodness you’re neither a drinker, nor overweight, and that you take appropriate exercise to avoid ever getting a bad back, or needing a hip replacement. Otherwise your opposition to smoking on this basis (cost to the NHS) would make you a hypocrite.
As people below have pointed out, smokers have paid for any extra medical care they might need through a lifetime of exorbitant taxes on fags.
And if it is true that smokers are dying early as a result, then that’ll save the exchequer a ton on pensions, and indeed on medical care for the years that they’re not alive.

Simon Neale
Simon Neale
7 months ago

“In next week’s ‘UnHerd jobswap’, Jonathan Sumption has a go at painting some young lads in a swimming pool.”

Roland Jeffery
Roland Jeffery
7 months ago

Smokers—like alcoholics—smell bad and are un-kissable. Which makes them socially isolated and even more likely to turn to nicotine and alcohol as a cheer-me-up.
Its always sad when a friend succumbs to an addiction that marginalises them. When it happens to a great artist the art often benefits, directly or indirectly; such are the personal costs of the creative life from which the rest of us benefit.
Friendly discouragement is a human kindness that David Hockney seems unlikely to heed. He seems untypically clear-headed about the risks and pay-offs. Whereas most addicts are prisoners of their addiction because they fell through the trap door by misjudgement or happenstance.

Last edited 7 months ago by Roland Jeffery
McLovin
McLovin
27 days ago
Reply to  Roland Jeffery

Perfectly kissable if you have enough to drink.

james elliott
james elliott
28 days ago

Pointless distraction.

Mr. Sunak needs to focus on fixing the migrant crisis – and mitigating the ongoing extreme lawlessness crisis as a result of earlier waves.

He desperately doesn’t want to focus on that – so he distracts everbody with this.

Bryan Dale
Bryan Dale
27 days ago
Reply to  james elliott

I’m sure it will drive more voters to Reform.

Lyn Poole
Lyn Poole
27 days ago

David does wonderful paintings.
He is lucky he has the calm outlook and physical constitution to survive ok as a smoker.
But its a horrible smelly habit that was imposed on human beings. Its not a natural thing to do and is highly addictive. David is addicted.
Continuing to object to being told it’s an unhealthy thing to promote is just a waste of energy. Nobody is preveting him choosing to smoke. No law against stating the truth, bossy or not.
I have watched someone die from lung cancer.

Martin Goodfellow
Martin Goodfellow
27 days ago

If you’ve been smoking as long as Mr Hockney, you’ve no doubt forgotten how good it can feel not to smoke. My own experience tells me the latter is preferable. I’ve also seen my parents and two brothers die of lung cancer, caused by smoking. At times, they all justified smoking using the same arguments as Mr Hockney. I don’t consider myself a do-gooder, or ‘bossy boots’ for saying smoking isn’t a good thing. Bans work best, however, if they are self-imposed. Discouraging smoking, though, is better than encouraging it.

Roderick MacDonald
Roderick MacDonald
27 days ago

It’s not the English who want to ban smoking, just the power-hungry gauleiters of Westminster. They never miss a chance to throw their weight about.

Bryan Dale
Bryan Dale
27 days ago

I don’t know that the English want to ban smoking. That’s an idea promoted by possibly the most unpopular prime minister in history. Even many of the leading MPs in his wretched party are opposed. Unfortunately principled Conservative MPs are an endangered species.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
27 days ago

I have never smoked and I don’t like to be with smokers. I support the smoking ban indoors but I don’t see why say pubs and restaurants should not allow smoking if they can get the customers and staff to work there. As far as health care is concerned just make smokers pay for treatment related to smoking, or better still privatise the entire NHS.

andy young
andy young
27 days ago

I hate smoking. It has always stunk to me, as far back as I can remember. So I’ve never been remotely tempted to start. Having said that, pipe & cigar smoke I have often found to be quite pleasant (although they still stink the same when stale).
As such I found it an enormous relief when it was banned from indoor public places, BUT, to make it illegal for people to smoke at all? When nobody who objects is around? NO NO NO!!!

Philip Anderson
Philip Anderson
27 days ago

This article is a great example of survivor bias!
(People who failed to reach the age of 84 because of their smoking habit aren’t here to tell us about it).

Victoria Cooper
Victoria Cooper
27 days ago

Some people die from smoking, some live to a ripe old age. Doesn’t it behove the scientific community to work out the difference that makes the difference?

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
27 days ago

Hockney is a great artist but no knowledge of statistics.

His argument would be “my uncle Joe survived 4 years in the trenches in WWI which proves it was safe.”

Nicholas Taylor
Nicholas Taylor
26 days ago

For the children and future generations, the sooner this appalling senseless and exploitive addiction is gone from the world the better. If I could, I would take all tobacco products and incinerate the lot now, and after a year or so close the shiny vape shops and destroy all their products, preferably recycling the vast amount of plastics and toxic batteries they contain. If someone had invented smoking and vaping just yesterday, instead of in a more ignorant, wasteful and less environment-conscious era, it would never be acceptable. The minimum should be a ban on smoking and vaping in public places. The fumes can travel for several metres, in the case of smoking rendering the air unbreathable. Smoking and vaping in public are the most common anti-social behaviours today.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
7 months ago

Because it costs more in health spend than it provides in taxes. And because it’s dumb. With conventional drugs and booze, one’s mood at least alters, but smoking just seems to make miserable sods look a little less worried. Pointless crap.

Pat Price-Tomes
Pat Price-Tomes
27 days ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

Pehaps then we could argue that the main reason for banning smoking is that we have a free NHS. We could consider going back to favouring the privileged in a paying system and then the fuss about smoking might die down. I say this as a non-smoker who doesn’t particularly enjoy being around people smoking and with my tongue in my cheek….