Friendship Trumps Division with My Mate Pete

Author: Pat Nurse
Article Published: 16 April 2008

Since the introduction of the smoker ban in the UK, staying in has become the new going out, and if people such as my smoking hater mate Pete can tolerate smokers in his home, then why can’t the British Government amend the ban in public and allow us all to choose?

Saturday nights are usually spent round at my mate Pete’s house lately. I’ve known his mum for years and love going to visit for a social evening because Paula and Pete are great company.

We talk about all sorts of things, people we know, things we hate, and love. Pete is a busy man. He runs his own market stall and Paula is a very successful businesswoman. She works in the mental health industry and brings comfort to her clients with a host of alternative therapies including a nice relaxing massage.

Last week, however, Pete and I embarked upon a debate about smoking and it was only then, after knowing the family for 15 years, that I found out just how much Pete hates smoking.

"You have to admit it’s bad for your health," he said.

I conceded that it might be bad for me to smoke too much but I didn’t accept that it was bad for anyone else if sufficient ventilation was installed where smokers smoke.

Pete looked at me in disbelief.

"Smoking is the biggest cost to the NHS and the local hospital is full of patients with respiratory illnesses due to smoking," he continued.

I disagreed again and said it was impossible to know how much other factors, such as personal constitution, or traffic fumes, contributed these "respiratory illnesses." My home city is so congested traffic crawls in and out at peak times and creates a haze of pollution at the bottom of the skyline.

Pete’s mum Paula joined in to say certainly she felt her respiratory problems had been caused by her lifelong love of cigarettes and now she was smoking herbal and tobacco blends as an alternative in a bid to improve her health.

Pete started quoting the usual eugenic figures on how many people died from smoking and passive smoking each year. I told him I didn’t believe that either and that we all know how figures can be manipulated to make us believe anything.

I was surprised because Pete is certainly not the type to be brainwashed and accept such figures without question.

Indeed, he once phoned a British national newspaper to say he doubted their figures on the numbers of people allegedly killed by taking the ecstasy drug, because they just seemed too inflated to be true.

"I love the smoking ban," he said. "My clothes don’t stink when I go to the pub anymore."

"Fair enough," I replied, "but if we allowed choice, so you could go to a pub where you know there are no smokers, and I could go to one where I know I can smoke, your clothes still wouldn’t 'stink'."

Pete responded by saying that I was in the minority and no-one cared about being able to smoke in public anymore.

"How many people do you know who actually still smoke?" he asked.

"Almost everyone," I replied.

"That’s strange, because almost everyone I know doesn’t smoke," he told me.

"Ahh ... well I guess we just mix in different social circles," I said.

Our debate became quite heated. Neither of us would agree with the other’s point of view and with each issue raised, we both made points to back up our argument. I mentioned websites such as this one that he could look up to get a balanced account, and he gave me some leads on anti-smoking sites that I might find informative.

As Pete hates smoking, he is far more likely to want to believe the figures that are churned out by the big pharma supported anti-smoking lobby, and of course as a smoker for forty years, I'm inclined to believe in what I've experienced, and certainly to doubt what I know to be too inflated to be true.

He was looking at the issue from the health scare point of view whereas I see very clearly a wretched fanaticism killing precious freedom. He didn’t accept that if we roll over and accept this smoking ban then other things that we love may come to be denied us by law.

He scoffed at the suggestion, for example, that the obese may be banned from junk food restaurants in future and that we may all be told where and what we can eat and drink.

Then he got personal and I was momentarily stirred into silence.

"I’ve been sitting here in this smoky atmosphere all night and my lungs are really hurting. Now what do you say about that? I can tell you that passive smoking does affect non-smokers because it‘s affecting me right now," he said.

A big man, Pete was recently involved in a horrific car accident and to be honest, he’s lucky to be alive and to have escaped with the injuries he sustained, which included a punctured lung and several broken ribs. His doctor told him that his excessive weight saved his life as did the fact he wasn’t wearing a seat belt.

Despite his discomfort, he never once asked us to put our cigarettes out.

If I didn’t value my friendship with Pete and his mum, I could have said something that would offend in response to his accusation that our smoke was hurting him, and so I chose to keep quiet until I could think of a considered way to phrase what was on my mind.

We eventually moved to another subject of discussion and some short time later, Pete said his goodnights and disappeared to his own smoke-free room upstairs.

I hadn’t wanted to leave the smoking debate there, and of course, I wanted to be sure we hadn’t fallen out about it so I raised it briefly again with his mum before we left.

I told her that even if I accepted what Pete has come to believe about passive smoking, then I still didn’t understand why that should lead to a public smoker ban, when a choice of venues and basic ventilation systems can easily address any and all such concerns.

When Pete asked me what did I think about the fact my smoking was causing his lungs to hurt, my answer should have been: "It’s all about choice."

He could have chosen to chuck us out — but then he might have thought I’d take the hump — or he could have chosen to leave the room, but that would be really offensive in the man’s own house!

I suspect that health alarmism has produced division that will be hard to eradicate, between smokers and many non-smokers, but the unfortunate division between our outlooks can still be bridged by tolerance today, and over time, potentially undone by remediation of that alarmism.

Pete remains a mate because, despite his revealed hatred of smoking, he was, as always, very gracious in allowing us to smoke in his house. Tolerance is a rare thing indeed among twenty-first century smoke haters.

Legislated intolerance is very wrong. In action, Pete demonstrates this, though he didn't in his words. Prohibitionists have tried to make smoking a sin. If my friend believes this, still he does not choose to condemn, and I‘m grateful for that as I‘d hate to lose one of my best mates over an issue that is far more divisive than it should be.

Friendship is precious. Antitobacco is miserable and petty. Windows are made for opening and so are minds. I suspect that health alarmism has produced division that will be hard to eradicate. That is why the counter-movement for reason, for tolerance, and for freedom is working hard, and why I am working with it.

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