Friday, 31 May 2013

Starbucks is banning smoking outside its North American shops as of tomorrow – that’s outrageous!

I don’t smoke cigarettes any more (okay, if pressed, I’ll admit to cadging one or two now and then, if the company is particularly convivial and my wife isn’t looking). I’ll also admit to smoking the occasional small Café Crème cigar. But, like a lot of ex-cigarette smokers. I’m actually rather relieved that they’re now banned from cinemas, tube trains, restaurants and offices (I don’t like pubs, but I find the thought of not being allowed to smoke in them counter-intuitive).

I prefer it if people don’t smoke in our house, just because the pong lingers for weeks, but I’m happy to stay in other people’s smoke-filled homes – especlally as I find the company of all the smokers I know rewarding, and I don't suffer from the zealotry that often seems to afflict converts.

Let’s face it, the general absence of cigarette smoking is an aid to abstinence. And, by God, abstinence is hard: when I first gave up, I used to deliberately follow smokers up from Temple Underground Station to my place of work at Bush House, desperately trying to snorkel up any stray drifts of smoke they left in their wake.

But I do feel that when people grab a coffee at places like Starbucks and then proceed to drink it at a table outside, they should damn well be allowed to enjoy a smoke while doing so. Hell, coffee and cigarettes were simply made for each other – in fact I now only drink coffee if I have a crafty cigar and a box of matches secreted about my person.

So I was saddened to discover that, as of today, Starbucks is introducing a ban on smoking within 25 feet of its 7000 North American stores (as it calls them). The anti-smoking brigade are cock-a-hoop. The problem with people who like to ban things is that they’re never ever satisfied with an initial victory: they may pretend that they’re only really concerned with their own health and comfort and, of course, with the dreadful example  being set children (who, after all, are our future), but what these prim puritans are really interested in - what really motivates them - is the sheer pleasure to be derived from punishing sinners.

Twenty-five years ago, people were allowed to smoke pretty much anywhere. Then they were asked to retire to little rooms to do it furtively. Then they were made to go outside (it was when I found myself lighting and grabbing two puffs of a cigarette while hurrying between two BBC buildings no more than 50 yards apart that I realised I had to do something about my habit). I don't want to see smoking positively encouraged (although it's an enormous helpt to the economy), but smokers really have been punished enough.

I’m allergic to the noise leaked by music-listening devices in enclosed spaces, and I can’t bear people who constantly consult smart-phones in cinemas and theatres. To me, the resulting distraction is the equivalent of what non-smokers used to experience when someone lit up next to them in a restaurant. (I reject passive-smoking arguments, which seem to rely on the same sort of convenient left-wing junk science as those employed to support man-made global warming.) But while I’d happily ban people listening to music on the tube or from constantly checking their phones during a play or a concert, I wouldn’t dream of stopping them from doing it in the foyer or in the street. I’m not a Nazi.

That’s enough, already, you smug, fussy, interfering, selfish, left-liberal fascists! Live and let live (or, in the case of smokers, let die).


  1. I have been persecuted by anti-smoking "persons" all my life [some of whom have pre-deceased me, but I take no pleasure in that]. When challenged I think about the scene from "In Bruges" [2008]when Colin Farrell chastises some hapless Canadian in a restaurant who complains about his girl-friend lighting up ["That's for John Lennon, you Yankee - redacted"] or Ben Kingsley's conversation with the air stewardess in "Sexy Beast" [2000] when she asks him to stub his cigarette out [all dialogue redacted]. Because of these two brief scenes I have forgiven Farrell for "Alexander" and Sir Kingsley Benji for "Ghandi".

    1. Apparently Ben Kingsley based his performance on his grandmother, whom he called "A vile and extremely unpleasant woman." Charming!

      When he finally adjourns to the great Green Room in the sky, I bet the one performance the world will remember him for with enormous gratitude is his Don Logan in "Sexy Beast" rather than boring old "Gandhi".

      Next time you're challenged, I suggest you use what he says to the passenger sitting behind him "Want me to cut off your hands and use 'em as an ashtray?" (Mind you, probably not if you're in Glasgow.)

  2. ... or Ben Kingsley's conversation with the air stewardess ...

    Flying home from Milan once, the peace of the cabin was shattered by some harpy air hostess shrieking "kindly extinguish your smoking material".

    A moment's embarrassed silence, and then the magnificent baritone of Anthony Burgess said "the rule bans cigarettes, this is a cigar", followed parrot-like by "kindly extinguish your smoking material".

    God, I thought, quickly reviewing the punishments in Clockwork Orange, does this stupid girl know what fire she's playing with? The newspaper headline formed before my eyes, "Innocent trolley dolly clubbed to death by famous author wielding giant phallus – government bans books".

    The same thought obviously occurred to Mr Burgess, who appealed instead to a gentler tradition: "I'm not smoking, it's my cigar that's smoking".

    One last time, "kindly extinguish your smoking material", and an unsettled peace reigned once again.

  3. David Moss. Great story. Thank you. Had completely forgotten about Burgess - mad, glittering eyes and magnificent comb-over.

  4. I've always suspected that Arthur Scargill based his own fluffy ginger comb-over on the great author's version.

    I was rereading one of the Enderby books recently (the one set in New York), and found myself laughing out loud within half a page. I reckon we're due a Burgess revival sometime soon, especially his early '60s novels, and, of course, the wonderful Malayan trilogy, which I reckon is the best thing he ever wrote.

    He used to appear on Parkinson, I remember. Imagine a literary novelist appearing on a TV chat show these days!