17 January 2002
It's always us who get the blame. Like we're outcasts, lepers, a disgrace to society. Next thing you know, there'll be a campaign to list all our names in the News of the World, so vigilantes can come round and duff us all up for being a danger to the nation's children, stealers of young life, ne'er-do-wells with flagrant disregard for the concerns of others.
Sorry. I just got triggered off by a news headline (followed by a five-minute special report) on the BBC's notoriously hard-hitting Breakfast News (with Jeremy Bowen). 'A new survey on the dangerous effects of passive smoking', they trumpeted. At last, I thought, some justification for the ostracism we've had to face. A case to answer, a defence to be made. Something to get my teeth into.
But with the Breakfast News, it's never that simple. The survey announced the following 'startling' discovery: people who live with smokers are likely to inhale up to twice as much cigarette smoke as those who don't. 'Most alarming' was the statistic that children whose parents smoked were exposed to over five times the amount of cigarette smoke as those with non-smoking elders.
Let's run through that again. If someone smokes in your house, you will breathe in more smoke than if they don't. Forgive me if I don't faint with surprise. Where else but in the home are kids likely to be around smokers? I can only think of two places: behind the bike sheds, where it's hardly going to be a particularly passive intake, or in the staffroom (insert gag on previous clause here).
Then they interviewed a 'victim'. Kerry, who lived with her smoking boyfriend Dave (names have been changed to protect the injured parties). Her voice wasn't spoken by an actor, but it might just as well have been. She revealed the extent of Dave's terrifying habit (he sometimes smoked as many as 20 cigarettes in a day! Sometimes he had a cigarette within ten minutes of getting up in the morning!), finally admitting that the house did smell a little smoky. Especially when they'd had friends round and they'd all smoked in the house. Dave just looked nonplussed; she knew he was a smoker when they first met, and she'd never complained about it before. Some people will do anything to get on the telly.
I finally had to laugh when they interviewed someone from the Imperial Cancer Research fund, who organised the witch-hunt (sorry, survey). To be fair to him, he did look a little sheepish when a (clearly concerned) Bowen asked him about the health implications of these findings, and he could only stammer 'Well, this was a quantitative rather than qualitative survey...'
So someone has paid thousands of pounds of desperately-needed charity money to come up with results you could have worked out in five minutes in the queue at M&S. Not that you ever have to queue that long, they're very efficient. Let me save the country a few more millions: you are more likely to eat significant amounts of red meat if you are not a vegetarian. People who are professional athletes are likely to do more exercise than those who do not have gym membership. People who work on a farm spend more time outdoors than office workers. Cheques from the Linda McCartney Foundation, Get Out Get Fit, and the Agricultural Institute should be made out to Jamie at Upsideclown.com.
Don't get me wrong, I don't think it can be all that nice to have a faceful of smoke when you're trying to eat your expensive meal that you've saved for for three months. It's certainly an irritant. But don't go pinning lung cancer in non-smokers on the likes of me without having more than the circumstantial evidence that 'they didn't smoke - cigarettes cause lung cancer - it must have been other people's fags'. If you can link the findings of that survey to increased incidents of the big C, then I'll hold my hands up and apologise. But let's look at the exposure to traffic fumes and pollution and the way they link in to disease first. Before we end up with the California situation where you're not even allowed to smoke outside in public. That forces people to smoke inside their own homes. And we all know how dangerous that can be.